Puyallup officials have aspirations to make their city more walkable – particularly in South Hill, where the South Hill Mall and adjacent strip malls line traffic-plagued Meridian Avenue.
Thursday city officials invited citizens, health department officials and a national expert on pedestrian-friendly communities to point out what they’ve been doing wrong.
The "walkability" assessment, sponsored by the city and the Tacoma Pierce-County Health Department, took a group of citizens, elected officials and city staff on a tour of downtown Puyallup and South Hill.
Their mission: figure out what street and building improvements could encourage people to get out of their cars and walk from place to place.
Participants used disposable cameras to snap photos of areas they thought were navigable for bicyclists and pedestrians, as well as places that could use some improvement.
Dan Burden, the executive director of Walkable Communities, based in Orlando, Fla., led the tour. Burden, an urban designer, has experience coaching city officials throughout the country.
He advocated building mixed-use villages over shopping centers like the South Hill Mall, while making narrower roads that feature bike lanes, tree wells and more on-street parking.
He also suggested turning South Meridian Street south of the Puyallup Fair and Events Center into a tree-lined boulevard.
"The communities that make it in the future are going to be based on the human foot," Burden said. "Communities can’t afford to keep building for the car."
Puyallup City Manager Gary McLean said the city has made great strides in creating a walkable community downtown, where Pioneer Park is flanked by coffee shops, a new library, a senior activity center and condos.
South Hill, he said, is another story.
"Puyallup’s got a dichotomy going on," McLean said. "Our two areas are very different. South Hill just raises the question, ‘How do you make it work?’"
Puyallup officials are already working on a long-term plan to connect downtown and South Hill through rapid bus transit routes and a trail system, among other improvements.
The plan is part of how the city intends to use a $25 million grant from the state’s Local Infrastructure Financing Tool (LIFT) program. The city was selected last year to receive $1 million a year for 25 years.
Leslie Carroll, a prevention specialist with the Tacoma Pierce-County Health Department, said her office wants to encourage people to walk more in Puyallup and other local cities for health reasons.
"If we’re able to be easily physically active, our bodies are healthier," Carroll said. "We are all walking less, and it’s partly because of the way we’re designing our towns and cities."
The health department paid for Burden’s visit, not the City of Puyallup, McLean said.
McLean said city staff took notes on Burden’s observations and will use them as they continue putting their LIFT proposal into motion.
City officials also anticipate that Burden or the health department will send them a short summary of the feedback from Thursday’s tour, McLean said.