The city of Shakopee is walking the talk.
Shakopee and the Carver-Scott Statewide Health Improvement Program recently hosted a walkable community workshop and walking audit, with the long-term goal of improving walking conditions throughout the city.
Tracy Bade, a planner with Carver County Public Health, said a walkable community not only can improve the health of its residents, but also its economic health.
A walkable city is more appealing to business developers. It boosts tourism by being more accessible to visitors, who are more likely to window-shop. It increases the value of real estate in close proximity to paths and trails. And with a more active pool of employees, businesses reduce their health-care costs.
During the one-mile walking audit, city parks director Jamie Polley and others took note of the good and the bad on Shakopee's streets.
The good included trees, hanging flower baskets and street-oriented shops downtown.
But participants also identified a few obstacles to walking, including an unsafe crossing at County Road 101 and Fillmore, some low-hanging tree branches and uneven sidewalks.
Crossing at the railroad tracks also proved difficult for a person pushing a wheelchair. City Council Member Pamela Punt told the group that the railroad will upgrade the crossings this summer.
Michael Leek, community development director, also noted that there is a published walking tour guide and that plaques for historical markers are in the works.
The attendees, mostly city and county employees, included representatives from the Shakopee School District and St. Francis Hospital. The majority of them raised their hands when asked if they walked to school as a child. But when asked if their children or grandchildren walked to school, there was only one.
Finding and improving safe routes to schools is one priority for Public Works Director Bruce Loney, who is working to retrofit sidewalks in older neighborhoods. "Sidewalks are difficult to put in once a neighborhood is established," Loney said. "Half of the residents want them and half don't." He said the city's updated policy for new neighborhoods calls for sidewalks on one side of the street.
So, what can a city do to make walking a more common mode of transportation? City officials pointed to safety features, such as accessibility from streets to sidewalks; adequate crossing times at busy intersections; buffers to traffic such as landscaping, and comfortable places to wait.
Aesthetic features such as trees for shade, outdoor seating, hanging baskets and pedestrian-scale lighting also tend to attract more walkers.
"Connecting park trails and open spaces provides more opportunities for recreation and creates a strong community identity," Polley said.
After the walking audit, the group discussed how to make all of Shakopee more walkable and listed areas in need of improvement, including a safe crossing at Sarazin Street and County Road 101, where the trail ends in Memorial Park; more pedestrian bridge crossings for Hwy. 169, and trails and sidewalks in neighborhoods that don't have them.
A complete list of the findings and recommendations will be mailed to Shakopee residents in August.
Kara Douglass Thom is a freelance writer living in Savage.