Officials Gather to Improve ‘Walkability’ in Des Moines Metro

DES MOINES, Iowa -- The Healthiest State Initiative, in partnership with America Walks, is hosting a Collaborative Workshop on Walkable Communities in Iowa Tuesday. The goal is to engage state and local transportation, economic development, public health and business leaders on setting goals to expand walkable communities across Iowa.

After the conference, attendees will be taken through downtown Des Moines on a walking tour to discuss street and sidewalk conditions. A walking audit is an assessment of the walkability or pedestrian access of community.

“Are the intersections safe to cross? Is the walk along the sidewalk comfortable? Is the traffic whizzing by? Or do you feel like you’re taking your own life in your hands when you begin to interact with the traffic,” said Sarah Taylor Watts, Iowa Department of Health. “It’s the whole picture, the aesthetics. Are there other people walking? Are there destinations to walk to? It’s a whole complete package.”

Organizers believe this will be a great way for community leaders to assess walkability in cities all over Iowa, using Des Moines as an example, and seeing what pedestrians encounter when trying to travel on foot.

At the workshop a recent study will be presented, in which Iowa received a walkability report card score of 76/200. The study graded various factors within walkability like safety, funding, and accessibility.

While the score may be low, organizers believe there is a lot of room for growth. One of the biggest areas they believe the metro can improve upon is making the trails more accessible.

”We do have a lot of great trails but they are not well connected. So, it’s hard for people to get from their home to maybe a trail or a park, without getting into a car to do so. We are really trying to eliminate that barrier,” said Taylor Watts.