What’s wrong with this picture? Put yourself in the frame of a person with a physical disability, and the answer becomes easily apparent (hint: there’s no curb cut at the crosswalk). This design fail was one of many streetscape challenges that fellow participants and I identified as part of a Walk Audit Leader Training last month.  The training, held at the University of Maryland campus, was led by Mark Fenton, a renowned walkability expert and former racewalker who competed in the Olympic Trials.

walk audit 3

Mark’s premise is that we need to build places where people can get physical activity as part of their daily lives.  He identifies four elements that are necessary for active street design:

  1. Mix of destinations — is there stuff to walk to?
  2. Good transportation network for all users — not just for walking, but also for biking and for public transit.
  3. Site design  — does the pedestrian feel rewarded by arriving at the destination on foot? Are there benches, awnings, bike parking, street trees?
  4. Safety and access — is the streetscape ADA compliant? Are there sufficient crossings?

Mark’s approach to a walk audit is to engage community members and officials from interdisciplinary backgrounds to jointly walk around the neighborhood and score how well the streetscape fares on these four dimensions.  Each walk audit participant gets an opportunity to rate the environment around them, every few blocks or so, on a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 being a perfect score for an environment that is supportive of walking, biking, and transit.  Participants are asked to consider all possible users– ages, abilities, incomes, when rating the streetscape.

Our group set out on a walk audit of the UMD campus to put our training into practice.


walk audit 1

We identified good practices (e.g., large shade trees abound) as well as deficiencies (e.g., there are few places to pedestrians to sit down), and generated ideas about programs, projects, and policies that could be implemented to improve the UMD campus for walkers, cyclists, and transit users.

walk audit 2