By Christina McDonough, CHES®, PAPHS on Monday, March 2, 2020

9 things I learned while creating a Walk Audit Toolkit

Use your resources, walk alongside others and don't give up!

This blog post was written by former Iowa Walking College fellow Christina McDonough, CHES®, PAPHS, Community Transformation Consultant at Scott County Health Department and council member for the City of Princeton:

The built environment – streets, sidewalks and all of the other physical parts where we live and work – plays a vital role in community life by increasing connectivity and providing pedestrians access to public spaces. 

princeton walk audit

Christina McDonough and a group of community members in Princeton completed a walking audit together.

I conduct walk audits on a regular basis in my role at the Scott County Health Department (SCHD). While conducting a one-mile comprehensive walk audit with a wheelchair user, I realized crucial Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements were missing from existing walk audit tools. I envisioned a tool that incorporated quantitative infrastructure factors (such as sidewalk width and condition), qualitative environment factors (such as appeal and safety), as well as sidewalk slope and cross slope factors, a common barrier for wheelchair users.

RELATED: How a walkable community can help you move more

After research and approval to use elements of the evidence-based Walkability and Bikeability Suitability Assessment (WABSA) and best practice AARP Walk Audit Toolkit, I drafted and piloted the Scott County Walk Audit Toolkit in three previously assessed communities alongside a wheelchair user.  

Throughout the process of creating a Walk Audit Toolkit, here are 9 things I learned: 

1. Don’t reinvent the wheel unless you have to. There is a wide variety of existing walkability and bikeability resources available for no cost, including the WABSA, AARP Toolkit, and now the SCHD Walk Audit Toolkit that you can use or adapt for your community's needs.

2. Minimum ADA standards are not sufficient.  Don’t believe me? Take a walk in your neighborhood with someone living with a disability. It will open your eyes, like it did mine.

3. One shoe doesn’t fit all. Often times a Complete Streets Plan is too vast for a community, so the SCHD launched a Comprehensive Sidewalk Policy model for the communities we serve to incorporate specific language into an existing sidewalk policy and/or adopt verbatim. 

4. Invite community leaders and neighbors on a walk.  It will open their eyes.

5. Pictures speak 1,000 words.  Document the strengths and weaknesses of the walkability and bikeability in your neighborhood, but also take pictures. 

6. Point out the good and bad.  It can be overwhelming and disappointing to only hear about the bad intersections in town. Be sure to also highlight the intersections that are safe and accessible for all.

7. Make new friends. You’re not alone. There are others that understand the value in safe and accessible sidewalks, so reach out to your local public health agency, transportation agency, etc. to help make the case. 

8. Patience is a virtue. Sidewalk repairs and installations are expensive. It’s important to understand that governing agencies and homeowners have priorities that may come before sidewalks. 

9. Don’t give up. Funding and priorities change over time. Be sure to follow-up every now and then to ask if you can provide additional insight or if there has been a change of interest.

christinaIf you’re interested in conducting a walk audit, I recommend downloading the Scott County Walk Audit Toolkit. It includes an intersection diagram to record actual measurements, infrastructure factors, walkable environment design, walk audit ranking and recommendations for improvement.

The Scott County Walk Audit Toolkit is available for anyone to download and use for free. To learn more, visit scottcountyiowa.com/health