Connections to the Corridor: Walkability Survey Focuses on Pedestrian Connections to the Green Line

by: Anne White, DCC Walkability Coordinator

This post is the third in an occasional series “Connections to the Corridor”.  In this series, we will highlight a variety of efforts underway to connect people to the Central Corridor (officially known as the Green Line) and beyond.

In May and June 2012, more than 375 people walked from their neighborhoods to one of 16 future Green Line light rail stations along the Central Corridor. While walking, they noted the pleasant aspects and challenges along the way, as they filled out a Walkability Survey to gather information about walking routes to the Green Line. 

The Walkability Survey was organized by the District Councils Collaborative of Saint Paul and Minneapolis (DCC) to motivate people to walk to their future light rail station and to gather on-the-ground information from residents about the walking environment. The goal of the survey was to add detail to existing pedestrian realm plans and help identify priorities for implementing improvement projects.
With transportation models forecasting 40,000 weekday riders by 2030, and 68% of all Green Line riders expected to walk up to a half mile or more to their stations, the DCC knew that the success of Green Line ridership would depend on riders walking to the stations.  We also knew that residents had identified many concerns about safety and the physical condition of the pedestrian realm – including missing sidewalks, poor lighting and unsafe street crossings – especially in neighborhoods with a history of disinvestment and large numbers of people who are transit dependent. This makes it more difficult for those with the greatest need, including the elderly, disabled, and families with children, to access public transit.
The Walkability Survey was launched on May 6th, with more than 100 people walking to light rail stations. Many walkers reported seeing things they had never noticed before on routes they walked every day, noting cracked and uneven the sidewalks or delightful gardens. Some were surprised to find the walk was quick and easy. However, those making the trip with someone using a walker or a wheelchair said their eyes were opened to the extra challenges faced by members of the disability community. 
From the surveys we’ve received so far, we collected over 1,130 map notations and more than 1,163 comments about pedestrian realm concerns and assets. The major issues identified varied from one station to another, but they all fell into four general categories – the physical environment (sidewalks, trees, etc.), traffic and safety (speeding cars, inadequate lighting, etc.), accessibility (missing sidewalks, inadequate curb ramps, etc.) and the walking experience (street life, noise level, etc.).  
Corridor-wide, the top three findings were:
1. A quality sidewalk network is the foundation of walkability — literally and figuratively.  
Walkers sent a strong message that sidewalks are critical. If they don’t exist, you don’t have a safe pathway. If they aren’t in good condition, they become impassable for those using wheelchairs or pushing strollers. If they aren’t well maintained, people hesitate to use them.
2. Traffic must be calmed and pedestrian facilities clearly marked to increase safety, alert drivers to the presence of pedestrians and create order in busy multi-modal nodes.
Many walkers noted concerns about speeding traffic and driver inattention to pedestrians, especially at freeway ramps where sidewalks are minimal and pedestrian crossings are poorly marked. Also, walkers frequently lamented that walk signals did not allow sufficient time to cross wide streets. These situations create hostile pedestrian environments where people are now being encouraged to walk rather than drive to light rail stations.
3.  The urban forest plays a critical role in the pedestrian environment.
Walkers took special note of the presence or absence of trees which provide welcome relief from the hot sun, attract birds, and contribute to a pleasing visual experience.  Where trees and green spaces were lacking, mostly near industrial areas and large surface parking lots, the walking environment was described as bleak and desolate. 
The next steps for the DCC are to take these survey findings out to the community for review and additional input, and to begin engaging government agencies in developing and implementing strategies to address the most urgent pedestrian realm improvements before the Green Line opens for service in 2014. 
We’d love to hear from you what you think about the findings to date.  Have you checked out the route to your nearest light rail station?  If so, what did you find?  What needs to be done to make the walk safe and pleasant?  Submit your comments, photos or videos and visit our website for further information about the survey and to stay connected and informed about next steps.  You can also follow us on Twitter @DCCstpaulmpls or Facebook .