Public Works: The Sign Says, 'Walk There'
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Public Works: The Sign Says, ‘Walk There’

A DIY initiative encouraging people to walk their cities is taking off across the U.S.

Public Works looks at public space, urban design, and city-building innovations from around the world, and considers what Toronto might learn from them.

Courtesy of Walk [Your City].

How active are you, when you don’t have to be?

The 2013 Canadian Community Health Survey found that only 55 per cent of people in this country aged 12 or older are “at least moderately active in their leisure time,” defined in the study as taking an hour-long exercise class or walking for a paltry 30 minutes.

It seems a lot of us are lumps.

But a growing DIY sign-making initiative in the Southern U.S. is trying to facilitate more leisure walking.

Walk [Your City], as in “insert your city’s name here,” was first implemented in Raleigh, North Carolina in 2012 and, according to The Atlantic‘s Citylab blog, it has since spread to 50 cities across America.

The scheme is, you design some wayfinding signs that tell pedestrians how many walking minutes they are away from different amenities—a cup of coffee, the beach, the grocery store, whathaveyou—and with a bit of luck it will convince them to walk there, not drive.

With a visit to the Walk [Your City] website’s Sign Builder, you can design your signs in a few quick steps.

Using a Google Maps plugin, you pick a sign location and a destination, and the site will tell you how many minutes the trip will take. Then you can enter text, pick a colour, and an arrow direction. Depending on the sign size and shape you pick (all in the single-square-foot range), it will cost you a hot $20 to $60.

Then Walk [Your City ] prints up the signs on weatherproof material and ships them to you, for to be zip-tied to the nearest telephone poll. They even have QR codes to provide passersby with walking directions.

It seems to be working, at least judging from the case studies on the Walk [Your City] site.

In the pricey, privately-owned North Hills district of midtown Raleigh, a 93-sign project has yielded anecdotal feedback from people who have, for instance, made the 10-minute walk between the local Target and the supermarket thanks to the signs.

And signs are being put up all over the US—not just in upscale locales.

In the tiny town of Mount Hope, West Virginia, for instance, a group of nine volunteers and a pair of city staffers put up 70 signs like “It is a 14 minute walk to the ball fields,” and the less specific “It is a three minute walk to buy great stuff.”

The city of Lexington, Kentucky implemented a Walk [Your City] program and the local University of Kentucky followed suit, with signs pointing students to campus services and attractions.

It’s not just for walking, either. In October 2015, with help from Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, the City of Raleigh installed Walk [Your City] signs on cycling paths to show how many biking minutes away certain landmarks are.

Walk [City] also has an FAQ section that walks you through such hitches as engaging your municipal government in your signage, so your hard work doesn’t get torn down for breaking bylaws.

Walk [Your City] can’t force us to walk. But if we realize how relatively painless it is, we might give it a shot a bit more often. Maybe.