by Barbara Salisbury
We have to be able to move efficiently and safely from point A to point B in order to take advantage of B, and then to move on to the rest of the alphabet. Our pedestrian environment is just as important as our transit systems. I know that I’m preaching to the choir here, but the City of Bloomington Council for Community Accessibility’s Transportation and Mobility Committee, which I chair here in Indiana, decided to make pedestrian travel our emphasis for this year’s educational event. Let me walk you through our event and some of the goals and activities resulting from our event’s outcomes.
We started planning this year’s focus last fall. In January 2021 we applied for an ADA Indiana grant, funded by the Governor’s Council for People with Disabilities (Indiana’s developmental disabilities council). We immediately organized our planning committee in preparation in hopes that we would be awarded. It’s always important to be out in front of whatever the issue is and not be caught flat-footed. Our first steps to begin laying our groundwork were rewarded. We were notified of our award the end of February, and we took off running at that point!
We had decided to hold a half-day event, with a speaker to start the day who would focus on pedestrian best practices and regulatory information. We targeted, as our audience, planners, policymakers, cycling groups (a very loud contingent in Bloomington), neighborhood groups, and people with disabilities and advocates. The city staff liaison for our committee and I interviewed several experts in community walkability to be our keynote speaker. We decided on Melissa Anderson, ADA Program Analyst in the Office of Civil Rights for the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration. Some may argue that we could have selected a more pedestrian-focused organization, but if you stick around and read on, you will see why this choice turned out to be a very good decision for us! You will also see why good strategy and planning, and surrounding your advocacy efforts with people who bring varying experiences to the table, is critical and may actually pave the way for your next steps.
We planned our event to not only be informative, but experiential. We selected seven areas around town that highlighted various types of pedestrian challenges, created a walk audit tool to guide our participants through their pedestrian experience of these areas, and divided our approximately 40 participants into groups. Several from the local chapter of ACB, Heartland Association of ACB, were involved, as well as others with physical disabilities. One of our committee members who is participating in the Walking College with Walk America was very instrumental in designing our assessment tool.
Now it’s important to recognize that we were holding this event in the time of COVID, so this was a hybrid event, which had its challenges, but we overcame. Half of our event was out and about in the community! We actually piloted the use of an iPad to provide audio and visual follow-through in one of our pedestrian groups, so those participating online could take part in this part of our event.
We held our event on June 14th. We began the day with a continental breakfast. Because the pandemic was still raging, our speaker could not travel, so we Zoomed her in! After our presentation, we, with the help of our public and private transportation partners involved in our committee, ferried groups out into the community to conduct our walk audits.
We concluded our day over boxed lunches picnic style at our starting point, a city park pavilion. We discussed our findings and interacted with a panel that included our keynote speaker, the Active Living Program Manager and the Transit and Mobility Program Manager from Health By Design (HBD). HBD is a national organization that works on health-related issues, and the Indiana office is also active on our committee.
As a result of Melissa Anderson’s observation of how well our committee works hand-in-glove with our city staff liaison, he and I were invited to present in FHWA’s ADA Webinar Series: Transitioning to A More Accessible Tomorrow. The title of our segment was Disability Advisory Groups’ Involvement in LPA Transition Plan. Also, our city liaison is developing an ADA training module with and for the city transportation planners, and our contact with Melissa Anderson from the FHWA has become a part of this project as well. As this module will be designed to be experiential, our committee members will be involved in the implementation of the program.
Additionally, in response to our event, our committee and other city planners were invited by Health By Design to participate in the Complete Streets Technical Assistance project of 20-22 hours, value of approximately $2,000, to assist our local government in transitioning to a Complete Streets policy.
Our committee has decided to write a series of short articles focused on our personal experience with the pedestrian environment of our city. We hope these articles will be posted in our local newspaper. They will be highlighted on the Facebook page and in the newsletter of the Community Council for Accessibility (CCA), of which the transportation and mobility committee is a part. CCA staff is preparing a video of parts of the event, and have included interviews with some of the event participants. We hope to use this video as an awareness and educational tool.
Additionally, we plan to connect with area neighborhoods in planned and spontaneous walk-abouts to pick up trash. Now why connect with people picking up trash? These interactions will allow us an opportunity to highlight pedestrian challenges in a very concrete way as we stroll around with our neighbors. Change begins and happens from every level, so awareness has to happen on every level. Consequently, never underestimate the impact you can have on your local community to make a difference in your transportation and pedestrian environment. Small interactions matter. Make connections, cultivate those connections into relationships and gather round the issue those who can make a difference with their knowledge, skills, and passion!