Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
WASHINGTON — Local government and organization officials were joined by representatives from the Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield Monday afternoon for a discussion on foot traffic and a 1.5 mile walk around town, in what organizers called a “walking audit” of the city.
The informal event brought participants through areas of town they may not use as pedestrians, despite passing them daily in vehicles.
“When you experience these things on foot, it feels very different than when you’re driving around and looking through a window,” Wellmark Community Health Improvement Consultant Ethan Standard said. “You’ll notice things a little bit differently.”
His assertion held true. The group of around a dozen people navigated overgrown plants, a muddy underpass and the occasional absence of sidewalks altogether on the walk through town.
Wellmark has held around 60 of these walking audits in Iowa and South Dakota, according to Standard.
"Quality of life is such an important thing that communities focus on now,“ Standard said. ”Walkability is one big piece of that, that people are really looking for in today’s environment.“
The walking tour will be followed up in 8-10 weeks with a report from the representatives. Standard said it would help give a direction for improvements down the line.
“The goal of the report is to kind of help you identify what you want to work on,” he said. “the report will contain a number of recommendations and it’ll be up to you to pick out which ones you want to work on first.”
The list of possible improvements is lengthy. Often-useful ideas floated by Standard included bump outs at intersections to shorten time in crosswalks, streetside trees and sources of shade, and of course, trip hazard reduction through routine city maintenance.
Wellmark Community Health Manager Jim Cushing said Wellmark provided the service for free, part of its Healthy Hometown initiative.
“Our society has changed over the last 30 years (and) unfortunately two thirds of us are considered overweight or obese,” he said. “So we’re very much concerned about the health and well-being of Iowans and South Dakotans.”
Officials involved said they felt the 2-hour focus on sidewalks was productive.
“I’m really glad we did the area we did,” City Administrator Deanna McCusker said. “It gave a chance to see some of our sidewalks that are bad and crosswalks that need to be repainted. (It’s) a good service.”
Washington Economic Development Group Executive Director Mary Audia said the tour gave a balanced look at the city’s pedestrian conditions.
“I think it helps to just walk it, and see firsthand and feel where the sidewalk’s raised up or where there might be trip hazards or what things we do have that are really benefits,” she said. “It was cool to see both the areas that are impressive and the amount of work that could be done.”