Ali O. Lee: Results Of The 2011 Bayside Walkability Audit – September 20, 2011

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What do Sydney, Australia and Bayside, California have in common?  The two places have both used the Neighborhood Environment Walkability Scale (NEWS).

This seven-page, nine-section, 83-question survey instrument is a comprehensive tool that was used by the Old Arcata Road Safety Initiative to better understand how rural Bayside roads are used and perceived by people who live in Bayside.

Highlights of the walkability audit—inspired by recent walkabilty audits performed by the Humboldt County Public Health Department and cycling advocacy group Green-Wheels.org — were as follows:

• Sixty-six percent of survey respondents strongly agreed that, “There are many interesting things to look at while walking in my neighborhood.”

• Half of survey respondents were strongly satisfied with the statement: “My neighborhood is a good place to raise children.”

• Forty-six percent of survey respondents reported “it takes 31-plus minutes to walk to a job or school.”

Originally distributed at a “Rediscover Bayside Community Potluck and Meeting,” organized by non-profit BaysidePride, Bayside NEWS was additionally made available with assistance for completion at a quarterly “Breakfast in Bayside” at the Bayside Grange, Hank’s Beachcomber Café, Jacoby Creek School, the BaysidePride.org website and by mail with pre-paid postage if requested.

While 40 percent of respondents strongly disagreed: “It is easy to walk to a transit stop (bus, train) from my home”; 35 percent somewhat agreed with the statement: “Stores are within easy walking distance of my home.”

In the “Safety from Traffic” section, 52 percent strongly disagreed “There are crosswalks and pedestrian signals to help walkers cross busy streets in my neighborhood.”

Additionally, 46 percent somewhat agreed: “There is so much traffic along the street I live on that it makes it difficult or unpleasant to walk in my neighborhood.”  Thirty percent were somewhat dissatisfied “with the noise from traffic in your neighborhood.”

What is more, 40 percent strongly agreed: “Many drivers exceed the posted speed limits while driving in my neighborhood,” but 34 percent were strongly dissatisfied “with the amount of speed of traffic in your neighborhood.”

The survey was funded by a Humboldt First 5 “Better Together” grant administered by the Humboldt Area Foundation and by private donations from individuals.

Of the 300 surveys to zip code 95524 residents, there was a 16 percent response rate.  While the response rate may be considered low, it does not indicate less accurate data.

What is does provide is an informative window into the community, with a higher risk of representativeness only of Bayside residents who were willing to take time to complete and return a long survey.

By nature, surveys are not sexy.  They are tools that can lead to solutions.  This walkability audit has spurred additional community walkability audits.  The Department of Public Health pursued a grant for a more formalized, Old Arcata Road walkability audit, but was declined since the proposal was not tied to a change in policy.

The Center for Rural Policy’s Melissa Jones is considering writing grants for walkability audits to be conducted and has attended Mobility Management Coalition meetings regarding local transportation coordination, including non-motorized transit.

BaysidePride’s goals for the walkabilty audit are that dialogues and actions lead to human-scaled (pedestrian-centric rather than car-centric) neighborhoods preserving rural beauty and healthy watersheds.

For full results of Bayside NEWS 2011 walkabilty audit, e-mail info@baysidepride.org.

Ali O. Lee is a BaysidePride.org advocate who walks, drives, cycles, and photographs Old Arcata Road.

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