To make it easier and safer for people to walk or ride their bicycles to Eau Claire parks, a new plan suggests adding crosswalks, signs, sidewalks and other features near them.
The Safe Routes to Parks Plan drafted by the West Central Regional Planning Commission for Eau Claire’s consideration will soon reach the City Council for approval to become official policy.
“The focus of the plan was to look at each park with the goal of improving bicycle and pedestrian accessibility to those parks,” said Pat Ivory, the city’s senior planner.
Ivory was among city employees and volunteers from city commissions that analyzed all 32 city parks from the perspective of pedestrians and bicyclists. Work on the plan began in March 2019 and included multiple online surveys.
The surveys found that the biggest perceived barriers for people going to parks were a lack of safe crossings and traffic speeds. Crime, feeling threatened or seeing blighted buildings were the lowest concerns among respondents.
The plan also considered crash statistics, neighborhood poverty levels and other demographics.
For example, the report notes that there were 166 vehicle crashes involving a pedestrian or bicyclist between 2014 and 2018 in Eau Claire, according to police statistics. Of those, 99 occurred within a half-mile of a city park.
“It is important to remember that a neighborhood or community that is safe for people to walk and bike to parks is also walkable and more livable for everyone,” the plan states.
To improve safety in the vicinity of city parks, the report’s recommendations include some small maintenance projects like repainting faded crosswalks or getting rid of tall vegetation where sidewalks and trails are near roadways. Other ideas would add new crosswalks, park signs and bike racks. And then there are bigger infrastructure additions such as new lighting and paving sidewalks or recreational trails where they currently don’t exist. Lowering speed limits around parks is also something the plan suggests.
Ivory said the plan will likely go to the City Council for a vote in late July.
“It just makes a lot of sense,” Councilwoman Kate Beaton said of Safe Routes to Parks.
She’s already gotten a look at the plan and endorsed it last week in her capacity as a member of Eau Claire’s Waterways and Parks Commission.
Beaton noted that the new document follows work Eau Claire did in 2018 by drafting a Safe Routes to Schools Plan with similar goals.
“Whether it be schools or parks we want to make it as safe and easy as possible for kids and their families to use alternative transportation,” she said.
By fostering more people walking, riding bicycles or using other nonmotorized transportation, Beaton said it encourages a more healthy population and helps the city toward its goals for reducing pollution.
If approved, recommendations in the plan would be incorporated in future road and park improvement projects.
The smaller ones — repainting faded crosswalks, installing new park signs and bike racks — would happen faster.
“Those are things that can happen relatively soon,” Ivory said.
The bigger changes such as adding sidewalks would come as road construction projects arise, he said.