Overview of the Plan4Health Open Houses
A key element of the Plan4Health project in Columbus, IN is public outreach. It is vitally important to the success of planning projects that members of the community have the opportunity to provide feedback on proposed improvements. Members of the public bring ideas, insight, and local knowledge that can fine tune and ultimately improve projects. So providing multiple opportunities for public input with the Plan4Health project was a must.
Our local Plan4Health project consists of three separate strategies:
(1) The design of bicycle and pedestrian crossing treatments at several locally-controlled intersections along a critical east-west bicycle/pedestrian route in our community. This bike/ped route connects three community parks in Columbus: Noblitt, Donner, and Lincoln Parks.
(2) The development of a case study for the design of safe and convenient bicycle and pedestrian crossings at state highway intersections.
(3) The launch of a broad public awareness campaign, called Go Healthy Columbus, which emphasizes the importance of designing and building our community in a way that makes an active lifestyle the easy choice.
For the purpose of this blog post, I’ll be specifically discussing our public input events for Strategy 1.
Study Area for Strategy 1
The public input approach for Strategy 1 has involved two public open houses. The first open house was held in August 2015. We hosted the event at Donner Center, a Columbus parks facility central to the bicycle/pedestrian route that we’re examining. We also mailed flyer invitations to approximately 2500 residents near the corridor and publicized the event through social media and the local radio station and newspaper.
The open house consisted of 5 stations where participants were asked to provide input. The first station involved individual maps of our study area, and participants were asked to draw their preferred east-west bicycle/pedestrian route through the neighborhood.
Preferred Route Survey
This station was intended to help us gauge whether we were focusing on the intersections that get the most use. We imagined that this station would reveal one clear, dominant route through the neighborhood, and we would then focus on the intersections along that route. However, the results revealed that several different east-west routes, thus several different intersections, are used by bicyclists and pedestrians within this neighborhood. The different routes were chosen for a multitude of reasons, and we realized that we need to account for this usage. The results of this station shifted our perspective on Strategy 1. Rather than looking at intersections along what we thought would be a very clear route, we started looking at this neighborhood in a broader sense. We ultimately broadened our scope from originally examining 5 intersections to examining 8.
Stations 2, 3, and 4 focused on 5 specific intersections. Our goal with these stations was to learn about usage trends and user comfort levels with current bike/ped crossing treatments. Below is the series of boards used for one of the five intersections: 17th Street / Washington Street. A similar series of boards was used for the four other intersections. Participants were asked to respond to each question by placing a sticker “dot” within the box next to their chosen answer.
Display Boards for 17th Street / Washington Street intersection
Question 3 asked what the user’s comfort level would be if crossing the intersection with a young child or elderly individual. We framed the question this way because our goal is not to design the intersection for experienced users or users that are comfortable in most traffic situations. Our goal is to encourage more people to walk and bike so we must design the intersections for the less experienced and less skilled bike/ped users. When you make improvements for the less experienced users, it benefits all users.
At the final station, we presented possible intersection improvement options and asked participants to vote for the improvements that they believed would be the most effective at improving bicycle and pedestrian safety. Below are two of the four boards that were displayed at this station. Again, participants were asked to vote for their favored improvement options by placing a sticker “dot” in the provided box.
Display Boards at Station 5
As much as possible, the open house was designed so participants could make their way through the stations at their own pace and without a significant amount of assistance from staff. In order to facilitate this, participants were provided with an instruction sheet when they arrived. This document summarized the topic and purpose of each station and included instructions for providing input. Several staff members were present at the open house to answer questions and facilitate discussion, but the instruction document was extremely helpful if and when staff members were unavailable.
The results of the first public open house played an important role in shaping our project and forming the final draft recommendations that we presented at the second open house, which was hosted in February 2016. Similar to the first open house, we publicized this event through social media and the local radio stations and newspaper. We used the second open house to present the results of the August event and to obtain feedback on our final draft recommendations for improvements to 8 intersections within our study area. After a presentation from staff, participants were asked to make their way through a series of display boards, each focusing on a specific intersection. The example board shown below focuses on the 22nd Street / Central Avenue intersection but similar boards were displayed for the other intersections.
22nd Street / Central Avenue Display Board
Again, participants were asked to vote by placing a red or green sticker “dot,” which they received upon arrival at the event, in the provided box. The display boards were complemented by large notepads where attendees were asked to elaborate on why they did or did not agree with the proposed improvements.
The final board at the open house asked participants to prioritize the intersection improvements. By using three sticker “dots,” attendees voted for the 3 intersections they believed should receive top priority.
Participants voted for the intersections they believe should be prioritized.
The input we received at the second open house resulted in a handful of tweaks to our final recommendations, and I’m thrilled with the results and improvements that are planned for our community! For more information about our open houses, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.