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‘Walk audit’ highlights active transportation in Rochester

Brett Dahlberg
Mark Fenton leads a group of urban and transportation planners in the creation of an impromptu curb extension on Rochester's Church Street.

Transportation planners and advocates from around the Rochester region said they were leaving the city with some new ideas about planning for pedestrians after a so-called “walk audit” through downtown.

Mark Fenton led the audit at the invitation of Common Ground Health, a Rochester nonprofit organization. Fenton is a Brockport native and an adjunct professor at Tufts University in Boston.

“Going for a walk is a lot different than looking at drawings and talking about things theoretically,” Fenton said.

“A walk audit lets us see, how are people using this space? What would stop someone from using this space? How can we make walking or biking more inviting, and how can we better serve people with different mobility needs, like wheelchairs or strollers?”

Fenton asked the group, which included city and transportation planners from Rochester and surrounding areas, to look for things like accessible crosswalks, buildings that are inviting to pedestrians, and streets that are lined with sidewalks and benches instead of appearing to be designed merely for cars to pass through as quickly as possible.

Amy Knapp, a spokesperson for Common Ground Health, said the aim is to help planners find ways they can adjust their transportation networks to help residents make healthier choices in how they get around.

Credit Brett Dahlberg / WXXI News
Mark Fenton asks a group of urban and transportation planners and advocates to rate the accessibility and walkability of a section of the Genesee Riverway Trail in downtown Rochester.

As the group walked along Broad Street in downtown, Haylee Ferington, a community coordinator for the Genesee/Finger Lakes Regional Planning Council, noticed a problem.

“Look at this guy, he’s just crossing the road, in the middle of the road, because it’s not immediately intuitive,” Ferington said. “His safety is jeopardized right now because he didn’t wait for the crossing symbol and just went for it.”


Ferington said adding curb cuts at Broad Street and Exchange Boulevard and adjusting the timing of the crossing signals could encourage more pedestrians to navigate the intersection more safely.

Fenton noted that, like curb cuts and signal adjustments, many of the changes cities can make to coax people into active modes of transit instead of driving are simple and cheap. He created an impromptu “bulb out” on Church Street by having members of the audit group stand partway into the road.

Bulb-outs are curb extensions that make pedestrians more visible to drivers, shorten their crossing distance, and encourage drivers to slow down for them.

Fenton said these small adjustments can make a big difference for encouraging people to get around a city in ways that don’t involve a car.

“That’s one less car that’s adding to the traffic, the emissions, and the parking problems,” he said.

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