Population Growth Prompts Walkability Study
In November 2018, the City of Johnston, Iowa completed a city-wide walkability study to address the connectivity of sidewalks, trails, and supporting facilities between neighborhoods, schools, parks, and businesses. Located northwest of Des Moines, Johnston is currently home to approximately 21,000 people. The population nearly doubled between 2000 and 2010 and is expected to grow by an additional 6,000 people by 2030. As the community’s population grows, an extensive network of parks, employment centers, trails, and schools is essential to maintain a high quality of life for its residents. Recognizing the benefits of enhanced community livability, the city adopted a proactive approach to long-term growth by initiating the walkability study.
Essential Aspects of Community Walkability
Walkability is a measure of how pedestrian-friendly a neighborhood or community is based on how easy it is to safely and efficiently walk from one place to another. Three main factors comprise how walkable a community is:
- Pedestrian Infrastructure: Safe, connected, and ADA-compliant facilities
- Comfort & Interest: Routes should be pleasant and attractive with a variety of facility types
- Purpose & Land Use: Well-developed destinations and attractions
A broad range of factors influence walkability, so the project required involvement from many city departments including parks, public works, community development, police, and the city manager’s office. A project steering committee comprised of City Council and staff, park board, trails committee, school district, and business interests were also identified. The committee met three times over this eight-month-long project, while city staff kept them up-to-date with monthly progress reports and ensured ample opportunity for feedback.
Snyder & Associates served as the planning consultant to successfully guide the project toward the realization of three goals:
- Identify necessary infrastructure improvements and priorities
- Establish best practices for pedestrian facilities in existing and new development areas
- Ensure that pedestrian crossing treatments maximize pedestrian safety
- Consider maintenance needs and abilities with recommendations
Measuring and Assessing Walkable Conditions
The project began with Snyder gathering input from various city departments, community-representative stakeholder groups, and engagement events. The information gathered allowed the team to provide an assessment of current network conditions, which focused on existing and planned trails and sidewalks, destinations, school walk zones, and crash data. To supplement the assessment, online public engagement was conducted using Map.social, a map-based outreach website. The effort attracted 67 contributors that provided 214 data features and comments related to community walkability. The resulting information covered problematic intersections or crossings, gaps in sidewalk and trail routes, hazardous conditions, and pedestrian destinations.
Working closely with staff and the steering committee, we prioritized the urgency of each data feature as either high, medium, or low and assigned a recommendation to address each issue, such as “review for intersection improvements” or “build sidewalk with Sidewalk Program.” The plan provides guidance on the types of intersection and crossing improvements to consider, along with estimated construction costs and expected lifecycles. It also includes a list of potential funding opportunities for sidewalk and trail improvements.
Finally, Snyder & Associates reviewed 11 city ordinances and policies and provided recommendations to make them more pedestrian-friendly. For example, recommendations addressed landscaping in the road right-of-way, site plan design standards for requiring pedestrian paths to connect sidewalks or trails to main entrances, and when to construct a typical sidewalk versus a sidepath. The plan also encourages the city to take future mobility trends such as scooters and bike share systems into account.
Planning for a More Walkable Community
At the conclusion of the project, we presented the planning process, data, and final plan to the City Council, ensuring all of their questions were answered and that they understood the source of the information and resulting recommendations. Using the implementation chapter of the plan, the City will continue to make pedestrian-friendly infrastructure and policy updates.
Services provided by the Snyder & Associates team ranged from the assessment of existing conditions and walkability to public engagement and meeting facilitation, ordinance recommendations, cost opinions, and land planning.