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It's a short walk 

 by Jessica Wells, NCLM Communications Specialist 

 

 Atlantic Beach Mayor Trace Cooper installs low-cost wayfinding signs from Walk [Your City] in his town. Photo credit: Walk [Your City]
An international campaign to increase pedestrian trips started in Raleigh with Matt Tomasulo’s curiosity. As a graduate student in urban planning at the University of North Carolina, he wondered why so many traveled by car when grocery stores, entertainment and parks were within a mile of his neighborhood.

He started surveying people and found that the issue holding pedestrians back wasn’t the distance – it was how people perceived it.

“I asked if they’d walk 12 or 13 minutes to the grocery store and they said, ‘Yes,’” Tomasulo said. “But they didn’t believe that’s how far the grocery store was until I pulled it up on Google Maps and showed them.”

So he created Walk [Your City], a scaled-down highway sign system as a quick, inexpensive approach to wayfinding. The signs were color-coded based on destination type, and included an arrow in the right direction with the distance in minutes by foot instead of miles by car. In January 2012 he put up 27 signs in Raleigh overnight as an experiment.

It was so successful that Atlantic Cities, BBC and news outlets all over the world started to cover the campaign, and Raleigh integrated it into the city’s comprehensive pedestrian plan.

Raleigh City Councilmember Bonner Gaylord was on council when the campaign started and immediately recognized its value to the downtown area as well as North Hills Shopping Center where he’s the general manager. He installed 100 signs at North Hills, which gave Tomasulo the opportunity to expand.

 
 North Hills Shopping Center in Raleigh was one of the first communities to implement the Walk [Your City] campaign thanks to North Hills General Manager and Raleigh City Councilmember Bonner Gaylord. Photo credit: Kane Realty Corporation. 
“People are programmed when going from one place to another to go straight to their cars,” Gaylord said. “The signs help people understand that it’s actually just a couple-minute walk to a destination and that getting in your car can be more time consuming.”

The campaign also inspired the outdoor mall’s new app, which helps users find the best parking place and walking directions between shops.

“It’s the idea that if you get people moving from one district to another when they’d otherwise be driving, they’re actually seeing more of the inline tenants,” Tomasulo said. “If there are more people walking in the neighborhood, that means there are more feet on the street, which means more feet in your door.”

Since starting a Kickstarter campaign and receiving funding from BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina, Tomasulo’s team launched a website where cities can create signs and have them delivered to their doors. The new platform allows users to create profiles for individual neighborhoods, track usage with QR codes and view public comments.

Atlantic Beach Mayor Trace Cooper said Walk [Your City] was a great alternative to more traditional wayfinding signs the town was considering because it was quick and included the walking component. The town adapted the signs to include biking distances and rerouted that traffic from the main road to lesser-used back roads.

“That just makes a lot of sense for a beach town. We want to be a place where people can drive from Raleigh, park their car and not have to get back in it until they leave,” Cooper said. “ And a lot of that has to do with educating people not only about where things are but how close they are.”

 
 Since installing Walk [Your City] wayfinding signs, Atlantic Beach has seen an increase in pedestrian traffic and a reduction in short trips by automobiles. Photo credit: Walk [Your City]
The 65 signs that point Atlantic Beach visitors to grocery stores, shopping, and the beach will eventually be replaced with more permanent signs, but Cooper said their replacements will definitely include walking distance.

“The beauty of their approach isn’t just directional -- it’s educational,” he said. “It reminds people how accessible things are by walking.”

Raleigh, Greensboro and Atlantic Beach are the only cities in North Carolina using the signs, but the campaign is in 48 states and 50 countries. Since last fall, more than 3,000 signs have been created through the website.

It’s as easy as creating the signs and posting them around town, but Tomasulo said he and his team are available for more in-depth consultations on wayfinding strategy.

“It’s still relatively simple, but this idea of having a more quick, light and inexpensive approach to something like wayfinding, which usually costs millions, is really why it’s becoming so interesting,” he said.