“That’s a walk in the park!” Most of us are familiar with this expression which is used to describe something that is very easy to do. Ironically, a walk to a park may actually not be a walk in the park for a variety of reasons. For example, there may not be a park within walking distance (typically defined as a half-mile) from one’s home. There may also be physical and social barriers that often make walking to parks challenging and undesirable, such as a lack of infrastructure like sidewalks and crosswalks, traffic safety concerns like speeding vehicles, and crime issue like the presence of gangs. These barriers are a result of engineering, zoning, land use, design, social, and other conditions that may have existed for years. However, given the well-documented benefits of walking and spending time at parks, there are noteworthy efforts to address these barriers to encourage and make it easier and safer for all of us to walk to our neighborhood parks. Highlighted below are four such endeavors.
Safe Routes to Parks
Safe Routes to Parks is the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA)’s campaign to implement environmental, policy, and program strategies that create safe and equitable access to parks for all people. These strategies align with the goals of the 10-Minute Walk campaign (discussed below) and are valuable tools and resources to increase access and safe walking connections to parks. As part of this effort, NRPA developed an Action Framework in collaboration with the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, which provides local governments, including parks and recreation, planning, transportation, and public health agencies, with critical evidence and practice-based guidance on Safe Routes to Parks best practices that are supported by research and national organizations. One of the recommendations of the Framework is to put plans into action and ensure that those actions are based on best practices in engineering, design and programming, addressing topics such as park design, street design, park amenities, ADA compliance, signage and wayfinding, maintenance, connectivity, and programming.
10-Minute Walk Campaign
The 10-Minute Walk Campaign is a nationwide movement led by NRPA, The Trust for Public Land (TPL), and the Urban Land Institute (ULI) to ensure there is a great park within a 10-minute walk of every person, in every neighborhood, in every city across America. More than 220 city and county leaders have declared their support for the 10-Minute Walk campaign to increase equitable park access and quality through local policy changes, master planning efforts, and increased funding. Through the 10-Minute Walk Campaign, NRPA with support from The JPB Foundation, offers grants and technical assistance to support planning efforts that help cities and communities increase access to high-quality parks within a 10-minute walk. Also, as part of this campaign, TPL has developed and released a powerful tool called ParkServe®, the first-of-its-kind platform that includes the locations and 10-minute walk service areas for all parks, playgrounds, and natural areas offering public recreational opportunities in nearly 14,000 cities, towns, and communities in the U.S. ParkServe® enables users to determine where to site future parks with an emphasis on focusing resources in underserved neighborhoods. It provides information about park systems and the associated percentage of residents within a 10-minute walk of a park.
Step by Step Pedestrian Plan
Step by Step is Los Angeles County’s Pedestrian Plan to enhance walkability, a measure of how friendly an area is for walking, for the one million residents of unincorporated communities in Los Angeles County. Initiated and developed by the L.A. County Department of Public Health, the Plan details actions, policies, procedures, and programs that the County will consider to enhance walkability across unincorporated communities. It also includes Community Pedestrian Plans that identify potential pedestrian infrastructure projects for the unincorporated communities of Lake Los Angeles, Walnut Park, West Athens-Westmont, and West Whittier-Los Nietos. This tailored approach to pedestrian planning enables the County to work closely and collaboratively with residents, businesses, and other stakeholders to meet the unique needs of each unincorporated community. The Plan recognizes that enhanced pedestrian networks are a way to address park disparities in disadvantaged communities. In some cases, conventional new park development is slowed or constrained by the lack of available land. The Plan recommends recreation paths and enhanced sidewalk corridors that utilize the existing public realm to create innovative spaces for exercise and recreation.
Vision Zero Action Plan
Vision Zero is a traffic safety initiative to eliminate traffic-related fatalities, and an international movement that emphasizes a new approach to traffic safety, acknowledging that people make mistakes and focusing on system-wide practices policies and designs to lessen the severity of collisions. The L.A. County Department of Public Works is developing the Vision Zero Action Plan to focus the County’s efforts to reduce traffic deaths and severe injuries on roadways in unincorporated communities over the next five years. It creates the vision for the future and sets goals and actions to enhance traffic safety in collaboration with agencies and community partners. The Action Plan contains valuable data and recommendations, including the identification of “Collision Concentration Corridors,” which are any half-mile roadway segments that contained three or more fatal or severe injury collisions between January 1, 2013 and December 31, 2017. It is interesting to note that many of these corridors are located in underserved communities which also have walkability issues per the Pedestrian Plan and high park needs per the Countywide Parks Needs Assessment and Community Parks and Recreation Plans.
If walking to a park is truly to be “a walk in the park,” we must take actions to reduce and eliminate barriers that make it difficult for people to reach their local parks. Discussed above are efforts that will help to improve walkability to and from parks. The Pedestrian Plan and Vision Zero Action Plan are for the unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County, but similar initiatives are being pursued elsewhere in cities and communities across the U.S. While park planning professionals like me are typically more focused on addressing the design and supply of parks, we must be equally concerned about park access and collaborate with community members and our partners in public health, public works, land use planning, and other fields to ensure that the public can easily, conveniently, and safely reach their parks on foot.
Pedestrian button by author.
Safe Routes to Parks screenshot from: https://www.nrpa.org/Safe-Routes-To-Parks/
10-Minute Walk Campaign screenshot from: https://10minutewalk.org/
Step by Step Pedestrian Plan screenshot from: http://www.publichealth.lacounty.gov/place/stepbystep/lacounty.htm
Vision Zero Action Plan screenshot from: https://pw.lacounty.gov/visionzero/docs/VisionZeroFlyer.pdf
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author alone.