FOREST CITY | Nearly 20 people, who live or work in Forest City, were asked to evaluate the community on its walkability Monday, Nov. 13, during a walking audit based on its infrastructure, safety and amenities.
The walking audit, which was led by individuals with Health Hometown Powered by Wellmark, was designed to encourage those participating to brainstorm improvements could make walking and biking easier and safer within the community.
“What we found is you can drive up and down J Street five times a day and never think about what it looks like to someone who is walking, and when you go out and walk it you’ll probably notice — if you do drive that a lot — it does look totally different,” said Ethan Standard, a community health consultant with Wellmark, who led the audit.
Residents and individuals from the Forest City YMCA, City of Forest City, Winnebago County Conservation Board, Winnebago Industries, Waldorf University, Forest City Chamber of Commerce, Grow Forest City and others walked more than an hour in downtown Forest City that started on North Clark Street, and went along East L Street North Fourth Street to J Street. The walk then crossed the intersection of Highway 69 and J Street to Pammel Park.
“Think of all possible users,” Standard said. “Not everyone looks like you. Not everyone gets around like you, so think about people who don’t necessarily fit the same demographic that you do when we’re out walking.”
Along the route, Standard spoke about items, like roundabouts, parklets and crosswalks, that he had provided information on during a brief presentation ahead of the walk. He even had those participating in the audit create a roundabout and a median with orange cones to see how traffic adapted to the change.
After walking a chilly mile-long route, the walkers returned to the Cooper Building conference room to discuss things that worked and things that didn’t and establish priorities moving forward.
The downtown aesthetics and amenities, like the Forest City flags, seating areas and trash cans, were praised, while several voiced concerns about the speed, the quality of walking surfaces, locations and the intersection of Highway 69 and J Street.
“There’s a lot of improvements we can make to enhance the awesomeness we have,” said Missy Reynolds with Waldorf University.
Some of the “quick wins,” as Standard referred, were signage, painting crosswalks, installing medians and adding sidewalk.
The walkers determined the improving the safety of the intersection at Highway 69 and J Street; planning the “cultural corridor,” which runs from J Street to the new fine arts building; and addressing some of the immediate needs.
The individuals with Wellmark plan on using the information from the audit in a report that features expert opinions and recommendations for improvement projects within the community.