The Walking Detective™ teaches kids about the built environment, provides a tool for them to evaluate the walkability of their community and empowers them to advocate for change. Our intern Andrea Clark has been hard at work on this tool and reports on a test run.
My last walking audit was in the Blue Hills neighborhood, where our character Maya is from. There are some significant challenges to walking and biking in Blue Hills as well as some great community assets. Some small changes could have a big impact on walking and biking in the neighborhood. I walked through the neighborhood to a retail area before heading to the park.
The neighborhood is full of single-family homes. Many are in good condition but some are condemned and in bad shape. There are streetlights and shade trees making it safe and pleasant to walk, but the presence and condition of sidewalks is hit or miss. In some areas the sidewalks are in good condition, but the sidewalks on the next street over could be blocked by overgrown brush or non-existent.
On one of the blocks without sidewalks, someone came up with a creative solution. A strip of carpet had been cut and laid down on top of the grass to create a walking path. A garden was planted in the space between the fence and the carpet path. Across the street from the garden was an empty lot. There is a lot of litter and trash scattered around the neighborhood.
A couple blocks away is a major intersection with traffic lights and crossing signals. The crosswalks need to be repainted because they are barely visible. Bruce R. Watkins Drive is just to the east of this intersection. Walking and biking across this part-highway part-parkway is dangerous because it is an accident-heavy intersection.
At this intersection were several stores: Family Dollar, Church’s Chicken and Phillip’s 66. Discount stores, gas stations, convenience stores, liquor stores and fast food are the main grocery and food options for residents in Blue Hills. While a discount store like Family Dollar might provide household essentials and pantry staples, it is not a long-term solution to improving access to healthy food.
Parking lots surround these stores because they were designed to accommodate cars rather than alternative forms of transportation, like walking and biking. Parking lots can be dangerous for pedestrians if drivers back out of parking spots without looking. Most parking lots also do not have sidewalks for pedestrians.
A few blocks away is Blue Hills Park, a spacious public park with amenities like a playground, ball fields, tennis courts, a basketball court and a shelter with picnic tables and grills. The walking and biking trail is lined with trees and benches. There was some trash in the park, but considerably less than the neighborhood. The many trash cans in the park probably help with this. This park provides the community with a safe and enjoyable space for walking, biking and playing.
Blue Hills neighborhood scored 66/87 based on our checklist. The neighborhood is good for walking and biking but needs some changes:
- Add sidewalks.
- Clear brush and pick up trash along existing sidewalks.
- Make sure crosswalks are visible.
- Improve access to grocery stores for people who don’t have cars with safe routes, bus stops, and more retail options.