Starting in November, American cities and towns will be able to apply for Walk Friendly Community awards through a new program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration. The new program will be maintained by the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, with the support of 17 national partner organizations.
According to the Walk Friendly Communities website:
Walk Friendly Communities is a national recognition program developed to encourage towns and cities across the U.S. to establish or recommit to a high priority for supporting safer walking environments. The WFC program will recognize communities that are working to improve a wide range of conditions related to walking, including safety, mobility, access, and comfort.
The new program currently is in its second round of pilot testing with five unnamed communities selected in July. The first round of testing featured three communities of varying demographics — a small town (Cedarburg, Wis.), a small town with a college and commuter population (Davidson, N.C.), and a large city (Orlando, Fla.).
The Walk Friendly Community program will borrow heavily from the Bicycle
Friendly Community award program, which already has been adapted to create a Bicycle Friendly Business, Bicycle Friendly State and, announced just this week, a new Bicycle Friendly University award program (by the way, 18 new and eight renewing Bicycle Friendly Community awards were announced on Wednesday).
The Walk Friendly Community program will use the same 5 E’s model used by the Bicycle Friendly Community program (Engineering, Education, Encouragement, Enforcement and Evaluation), in addition to other elements that affect a community’s walkability such as city planning and Complete Streets designs. Each of the 5 E’s heads a section where communities answer a series of questions about that topic within the application. By answering the questions using the 5 E’s model, communities are able to discover any barriers to walking that exist in their town and what they also learn what they do well when it comes to making it easier for residents to walk around town.
The 59-page Walk Friendly Communities Assessment Tool (see attached PDF file below) was released on Sept. 1 and will serve as the rough draft for the new program’s application, which will be filled out and turned in online. Even though the new program hasn’t been launched yet, there already are a multitude of excellent resources posted on the program’s website to help communities evaluate their community walkability rating.
Several communities won’t earn the Walk Friendly Community award on their first application, but the application is designed to help communities develop and document their pedestrian safety and encouragement plans. Only about a third of the more than 400 communities that have applied for Bicycle Friendly Community status earned awards at one of the five levels of that program. But completing the application served as a community learning process and that helped even non-winning communities improve their support and infrastructure for biking and walking.
Sitka and Anchorage already have earned Bicycle Friendly Community bronze awards, so they may be ahead of the game among Alaska communities when the Walk Friendly Community applications finally are released. But Alaska communities have some of the highest rates of walking in the country when it comes to walking to work and school, despite our snowy and icy winters, so this new program may be a perfect fit for many Alaska towns.