Open house collects ideas to make Wichita safer for walking

09/13/2013 1:19 PM

09/13/2013 7:02 PM

Sam Schrepel is all for making Wichita a safer to place to walk.

One night about 10 years ago as she was walking home from a grocery store near her house, she looked up at a streetlight, stepped off the sidewalk, fell in a hole and broke her arm.

“The hole’s still there,” she said. “I’d like to see that hole in the street fixed.”

Schrepel was among roughly 50 people who attended a public open house at City Hall this week on how to make it easier and safer for people to get around on foot in Wichita. The Wichita-Sedgwick County Metropolitan Area Planning Department hopes to come up with a master plan by April.

Planners started the project based in part on citizen input. A national survey last year ranked Wichita 223 out of 267 cities in residents’ opinions about how easy it was to walk around in their communities.

Those who attended the open house had plenty of chances to let planners know what improvements they’d like to see. They were able to post suggestions and comments on a board and in a drop box, stick colored dots next to goals they wanted planners to prioritize, and had a chance to draw the changes they had in mind on maps of the city spread out on a table.

Schrepel liked one objective planners have in mind — to make walking in Wichita as easy as driving.

“I thought that was exciting,” she said.

She’d also like to see more public art on display in the city.

Peter Lagerwey, of Toole Design Group in Seattle, who is serving as a consultant on the project, told the audience that about 40 percent of people in Wichita, and one-third of all Americans, don’t drive. That percentage is growing – particularly among young adults and seniors – as costs of driving rise, incomes decline and interest in urban living increases.

Cities that are committed to a great walking environment are the ones that are attracting businesses, he said.

But cities have grown around residential cul-de-sacs that restrict opportunities to walk, Lagerwey said. Parents are forced to drive children to schools and friends’ homes, and can’t let them run free, as the parents once could.

“A lot of it has to do with the fact that we’ve created an urban environment where it really isn’t all that safe for our kids to get around,” he said.

He defined one vision of an ideal walking environment as “a place where a 9-year-kid and his or her buddy can walk by themselves on a summer afternoon to play in the park or buy a Popsicle.”

Lagerwey gave an overview of what planners intend to study, including sidewalks, crossings, curb ramps, pedestrian signs, the timing of crossing signals, parking restrictions at intersections, and safe routes to schools.

Two planning goals were highlighted as priorities by those who attended the meeting: providing convenient access from places people live to desired destinations such as parks, schools and workplaces; and providing connections between pedestrian, bicycle and transit facilities.

Posted suggestions included making sidewalks wider, giving more forethought in planning new construction and its impacts on walking and biking, cleaning up paths after mowing and storms, and creating a culture in Wichita that embraces walking and biking.

Planners said they will identify funding sources for improvements and hold another open house for the public in April.

More information on the project can be found at http://www.wichita.gov/Government/Departments/Planning/Pages/Pedestrian.aspx.

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