Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
WASHINGTON — A report from Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s Healthy Hometown initiative was sent to Washington earlier this month, detailing the findings of a “walking audit” held several weeks prior.
Municipal officials said the information was appreciated.
"We need to pull this out during budget time and look at it,“ City Administrator Deanna McCusker said. “Also, like, in the spring for maintenance with the crosswalk and the curbs, (to) make sure we’re identifying areas that need improvement, and making sure we’re getting those on the list. But I was very pleased with the audit … it was very, very good that we did this.”
The report spells out recommendations on a wide range of pedestrian infrastructure for the city.
Wellmark representatives said their goal was to spark productive discussions on the subject.
“Some recommendations are low-cost and could be easy to implement, while others may be large expenses that could take years of planning and work,” a foreword in the document said. “We hope the recommendations will provide a framework for your community to make Washington more pedestrian- and bike-friendly.”
Sidewalk additions, updates encouraged
The 1.7 mile route highlighted a diversity of sidewalk conditions in the city. Some were well-maintained, others were overgrown, and many were absent altogether.
Walking auditors suggested attention to sidewalk issues early in their report.
“Participants noted the presence of new sidewalks along the walking route, but some section of sidewalk throughout Washington still need to be repaired or replaced,” the file said. “There are also gaps in the sidewalk network in some areas, particularly near the new YMCA of Washington County.”
The report suggested construction of infill sidewalks to fill those gaps, as well as increased use of “small financial incentives” for property owners voluntarily replacing ill-maintained sidewalk panels.
Several options for crossings
The walking audit identified crosswalk upgrades as a much-needed area for improvement, citing them as a matter of safety.
“Washington has only a few intersections with marked crosswalks,” the report said. “Many crosswalks in town were the single stripe style, and much less noticeable due to faded paint. Repainting these crosswalks with high-visibility, continental-style striping on a routine basis and expanding the number of intersections with marked crosswalks will improve pedestrian safety.”
The report also suggested “enhanced” pedestrian crossings, those with signage and flashing lights activated by a button before pedestrians enter the street. Specifically, Wellmark identified the crossing at Highway 92 and Jefferson Street as a prime location for such devices.
Wellmark reviewers recommended “bump outs” as another way to improve safety at some crossings. The practice involves extending the sidewalk into unused road space at crossings, a move auditors recommended, but did not suggest any specific locations for.
“Bumpouts … shorten crossing distances for pedestrians at intersections, decrease turning vehicle speeds, and provide opportunities for street beautification,” the audit said.
Regarding another type of crossing, the document focused on the Second Avenue railroad underpass. For foot traffic, the path is the only sidewalk route from the north to south side of town that does not cross the tracks, save for an out-of-the way branch of the Kewash trail.
“While the underpass today is not particularly well-maintained, it presents a unique opportunity to improve walkability in Washington,” the walking audit said. “There are several things that could be done to make the underpass more usable and attractive, including … enhanced lighting and an updated painting scheme.”
Participants during the walking tour had to shoulder past overgrown plants and a thick layer of mud in the walkway. While underlying issues like poor drainage are harder to address, the report said municipal officials had already addressed “quick wins” like cleaning up the walkway in the weeks between their tour and the report.
“This has helped set the stage for further enhancements down to road to continue making the underpass a safe and comfortable way for people to walk under the railroad,” it said.
Some suggestions focus on “placemaking”
The report said an “enhancing a sense of place” in Washington was possible through various beatification efforts, any of which could make spaces more accommodating for social interaction and residents’ desire to spend time outside.
Walking auditors said they noticed a handful of vacant spaces in the downtown area unlikely to see regular use or travel. To address those, the tour leaders suggested pocket parks: small areas with atmospheres that encouraged stopping by.
“Providing more outdoor opportunities and interesting things for people to see and do motivates them to get outside and explore their environments,” the report said. “This creates opportunities where they can connect socially.”
Some of the vacant areas identified included an alley west of JP’s 207, and an unused city-owned lot close to Marion Avenue Baptist Church.
On a similar note, the report also floated the idea of parklets, small structures build over current parking spaces that facilitate social gatherings. The most common examples are eating areas outside restaurants, and again, JP’s 207 was a location identified as a possible candidate in the report.
“Parklets (provide) a relaxing space to sit and talk, enjoy a cup of morning coffee, or grab lunch with a friend,” the walking audit read. “They also make a street more enjoyable and interesting to walk along.”
Signage, especially at landmark locations, represent another place making possibility outlined in the report, which highlighted trail heads as a key opportunity.
“The Kewash Nature Trail begins just to the northwest of the downtown area without much fanfare … in a nondescript area,” said one section of the assessment. “Establishing trail heads on major community trails helps elevate their presence and increases their prominence and visibility to community members and visitors alike.”
More contentious “road diet” suggested for Highway 92
While the road is state-owned and maintained, walking auditors suggested major changes to the roadway along Highway 92, which runs through town.
Representatives called for a “road diet,” a reduction from four lanes to three, one of them being a turning lane. Doing so would make room for bike lanes or widened sidewalks, but potentially risk congestion in high-traffic areas.
Still, the report said that was a low risk for Washington.
“Highway 92 currently has more lanes for vehicular traffic than daily traffic counts warrant in some place,” it said. “This makes Highway 92 a candidate … changes will encourage lower vehicle speeds, which are more conducive to a vibrant community atmosphere.”
City officials expressed concern about such plans during the walking tour, however, citing super high-traffic times like the start and end of the school day, as well as the difficulty of convincing the state to make such drastic changes to a highway.