Active Communities, Active Community Design, and Walkability
Walking is not only the kind of moderate physical activity that, if done on a daily basis, can prevent chronic illness such as heart disease and some cancers, but is also very popular.
Some of the reasons people are not getting enough of this regular physical activity in Thurston County are the environments where people live or work and the walking conditions in neighborhoods. To address this, local governments and community partners can work together to make environment and policy changes that make it easier for residents to walk and otherwise be active.
Research has shown that residents in highly walkable neighborhoods engage in as much as 70 more minutes per week of physical activity when compared to residents living in less walkable neighborhoods.
Thurston County Public Health and Social Services, Thurston Thrives, and community partners work together to inform the community about active design and other features that encourage daily walking. In 2021, these partners hosted the 3rd annual Active Community Design forum for the public and for local government staff in development review and planning, parks, public works, and transit. The forum is an opportunity to learn about ways to move our communities toward more physically active environments. The public workshop featured a presentation by Dan Burden, a renowned proponent of walkable and livable communities. View the videos and summary report of the event below.
3rd annual Active Community Design forum videos:
- Introduction Local context for the Active Community Design Forum "Building Healthier Community" Presentation
- Part 1 Dan Burden on Land Use, Blue Zones, and Active Communities
- Part 2 Dan Burden on Transportation and Active Communities
Neighborhoods and other places that are walkable, in other words providing an environment that supports people walking easily and safely, have particular characteristics:
- Adequate density (compact development where people live close together)
- Diversity or mix of uses (different kinds of land use or development activity that put destinations within easy walking distance (usually considered to be ¼ - ½ mile), and
- Good design (smooth, level surfaces for accessibility to all people; safe street crossings; features that slow down vehicles)
There are several benefits of making these kinds of changes in addition to increasing physical activity. American Planning Association has summarized the findings of research on the benefits of built environment improvements that support walking and bicycling (active transportation).
Evidence on the Connection of Built Environment to Health (Physical Activity)
The evidence for the kinds of policies that increase active transportation (travel by walking, bicycling or transit) can be found in this summary from Active Living Research (ALR). The Center for ALR has several other studies and publications that provide the basis for understanding how we can create more physically active communities across the country.
Thurston County partners with the Community Design Action Team of Thurston Thrives, including local and regional government members and area community-based organizations (some listed below) to identify ways to foster active community environments through land use and community design changes. This effort to boost activity works on policy changes and programs to improve both connectedness and places, making our community more supportive of walking. An emphasis of the team’s strategy, in addition to making local communities more walkable, is to increase trail access and availability, to benefit all residents wanting to use active transportation and find opportunities for recreation.
- America Walks
- CivicWell-Transforming Local Vision into Action
- Feet First-Puget Sound Pedestrian/Bicycle Information Center
- Project for Public Spaces
- Northeast Neighborhood Association
- Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center
- WSDOT Active Transportation Services and Funding
- Thurston County Makes Being Active Easy with Abundant Walking Areas
- Trail Walkshed Analysis: Access Points
- Trail Bench Locations
- Regional Trail Signage Strategy 2017
What are Thurston County Public Health and Community Partners Doing?
Thurston County Public Health and Social Services works together with local partners to bring Safe Routes to School and related projects to schools throughout the county.
The goal of the effort is to increase the physical activity and safety among school-age children by encouraging and educating about walking and bicycling to school as well as traffic safety. We work with Thurston Regional Planning Council (TRPC), Intercity Transit, Safe Kids Thurston County, cities, the county, and local school districts to implement the Healthy Kids / Safe Streets Action Plan throughout the region's school districts. Partners hold events each year, like Walk to School Day in October and bicycle rodeos in the spring, with hundreds of local residents participating. Safe Routes to School partners also identify environmental and policy changes needed to support safety for, and to increase use of, these active ways of getting to and from school. We also develop and distribute supportive information like school walking route maps.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Washington State Department of Health provided initial support to bring Safe Routes to School to North Thurston Public School sites starting in 2010. Lacey Elementary and Mountain View Elementary were the initial schools involved. A task force, involving Safe Kids Thurston County and Thurston County Public Works Department, worked together to obtain Washington State Department of Transportation funding in recent years to make environmental improvements in local neighborhoods. The improvements, including clearing and resurfacing walking paths, installing lighting, improving street curbing or traffic calming, and putting in wayfinding signage, were done around Lydia Hawk and Olympic View elementaries and Nisqually Middle School.
For more information about current programs to implement the Healthy Kids / Safe Streets Action Plan, please contact TRPC at 360-956-7575, or visit their webpage. Intercity Transit Walk N Roll program is another good resource.
In 2016, Thurston County was named a Healthy Community 50 finalist in the Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge. A collaborative partnership conducted a trail walkshed analysis to identify opportunities to connect people better from where they live to the trails (or to destinations near the trails) via new or improved pathways and guide other improvements like benches and signage. These features will make it easier for people to get to the trails and be active, whether for recreation or transportation.
In 2022, Thurston County Public Health and Social Services (TCPHSS) and the Thurston Thrives Community Design Action Team were selected to participate in Washington’s Walkability Action Institute and created an action plan which is in the early stages of completion. It aims to create improvements to facilities for active transportation by finding short paths and routes to better connect people walking or bicycling to their destinations. TCPHSS also works with local partners on Safe Routes to Schools projects to encourage more walking and bicycling to school and improve traffic safety for injury prevention. In the past, Thurston County has worked with neighborhoods to conduct walkability assessments around the county, through the "Walkable Places Project."