Neighborhood Walkability

How do we roll physical activity, community service, and social engagement into one fun-filled hour? Leave it to the St. Louis County Library, OASIS, the County Older Resident Program, and a team of volunteers to conduct a Walkability Audit, assessing county streets for pedestrian safety, particularly for older adults.

On this day, we met at the Weber Road County library branch, and evaluated a 1 mile stretch of sidewalk, documenting potential safety issues, accessibility, and general conditions. For example, uneven sidewalks can be difficult to navigate for older adults, increasing the risk of falling. Overhanging shrubbery can make some stretches of sidewalk impassable without veering towards the traffic lanes. Other types of obstructions like commercial signage or litter, can make a simple walk feel more like an obstacle course.

We were fortunate to have Dept. of Transportation staff members with us to explain intersection walk signal timing, and we clocked it to make sure it was functioning properly and that there was adequate time to cross the street, even at a somewhat slower pace. We also discussed the property owner notification process for hazardous conditions.

The other items on our checklist included access to bus routes, traffic speed, distance between traffic lanes and sidewalks, sidewalk width, lighting, benches for resting, neighborhood aesthetics, and general feelings of safety. Although we may not think about all of these aspects of neighborhood walkability when we head outside, they are sometimes significant enough barriers to prevent an older adult from heading outdoors for a walk. Our audit found just a few hazardous spots, with room for aesthetic and transportation connectivity improvements. These findings will be compiled for review and action by the county's transportation department.

As Chair of the St. Louis County Older Adult Commission, I was thoroughly impressed with the efforts from this team of organizations and their support of the St. Louis County Age-friendly Community Action Plan. They’re not just talkin’ the talk, they’re literally walking’ the Walk.