Working with the city of Edmonds, Western Washington University has partnered together to conduct research on the “walkability” of nine specific nodes. These nodes include: Five Corners, Yost Park, Chase Lake Elementary,Westgate Elementary, Edmonds High School, Swedish Hospital, Westgate Village, Community Transit Swift Stop, and the future Light Rail. This paper focuses on the research conducted at Five Corners and Yost park. The overall goal in mind when conducting this research is the idea of health and wellness in terms of how “walkable” these two nodes are; with emphasis on those visually, or otherwise impaired. Our literature reflects these values in the context of parks and roundabouts. Given Westerns’ timeline, research will only be conducted and finalised in a few months. Students involved in the project will use ethical methodologies such as semi-structured interviews, an online survey, visual analysis and participatory observation. The end result will have conclusions about how the community feels about the two nodes, with potential ideas for improvement.
As health concerns continue to rise throughout the globe, research and understanding on how to improve our community’s health also rises. Health, both physically and mentally, is impacted by our ability to walk, travel, and interact with places (Godbey 2009). In the city of Edmonds, Washington, health and walking accessibility is a growing concern, especially as the city continues to grow. In order to address the community’s health, and desire to plan an environment that promotes walking accessibility, we have partnered with the City of Edmonds planners and engineers to develop a report to support the community. Our research aims to answer three main questions regarding two locations, Yost Park and the Five Corners Roundabout: 1. What is the built environment around these places? 2. How does the community interact with these places? 3. What are the community’s perception and suggestions for these places? By the end of the research, we expect to have a report that identifies the structure, an understanding of how people interact with, and evaluations of how the community perceives Yost Park and the Five Corners Roundabout.
Literature Review: 2.1 Health and Wellness of Public Spaces
The literature states communities have a lesser chance of disease if they have a well-built area to engage in meaningful activities such as; walking, bike riding, hiking, and other activities. “Low levels of walking are a major factor in today’s widespread waste of the potential for health and well-being that is due to physical inactivity (N.H.S. Choices 2016).” A well-built community will attract the entire community to get out and enjoy their surroundings. “The more attractive and safe the environment is perceived to be, the more likely it will attract users (Godbey et al. 2005).” Finally, we have also found how short distances to parks will also increase usage. “They observed that the more convenient the location (usually within 10 minutes) the more likely they would walk or bike (Greenberg & Renne 2005).”
In recent years, the call for review of roundabout safety in relation to automobiles has significantly increased. Benefits from research findings indicate that crashes from T-bonings, head on collisions, and sideswipes have been greatly reduced. The Insurance Institute for Highway safety states that “roundabouts also improve traffic flow and cut down on idling, which reduces fuel consumption and emissions (IIHS 2017).” Public health concerns reflect a growing interest in the safety of pedestrians, bicyclists, and environment. With heavy traffic flow most pedestrians do not view roundabouts as safe junctures. A study on the effects of roundabouts revealed that “pedestrian safety is also an issue of perceived vs. real risks. Even though pedestrian safety at roundabouts seems to be high (based on international experience and limited U.S. experience) many pedestrians do not perceive roundabouts to be safe (Stone et al. 2012).” Problems voiced also included those for at risk populations such as the visually impaired. Suggestions to combat this is moving street crossings from the roundabout intersection, to a greater distance before merging onto a roundabout. Implementing sound/noise strips have also been a consideration “even though the strip was not intended specifically to be an auditory aid . . . it acted as a useful tool in wayfinding (Apardian & Alam 2015).” Where there is ample and increasing information on vehicle safety within roundabouts, such in depth research is more difficult to find regarding current health trends and concerns among pedestrians and bicyclists. Part of our research would be to help identify and analyze these problems in Yost Park and 5 Corners. “Roundabouts also improve traffic flow and cut down on idling, which reduces fuel consumption and emissions.”
Physical Aspects of Parks and Public Spaces
The literature states it is important to make walking to parks inviting to residents by creating a visually appealing and clean environment, and developing off-road trail access (NRPA 2015). In multiple studies, they found that park users engage in higher levels of physical activity in parks that have playgrounds, sports facilities and trails. Also, parks that have paved or unpaved trails and wooded areas are seven times more likely to be used for physical activity than parks that do not have these features. In addition, they have found that having attractive environmental features in and around parks is a powerful motivator for physical activity (Maroko et al. 2009). Research has shown that having multiple access points to parks can help pedestrian get to the park easier. While many homes “may be in short linear distance to parks, pedestrian access to park entrances often results in longer walking distances due to the limited number of entrances due to fencing and other barriers”(NRPA 2013, 6). The U.S. Department of Transportation states that an ideal sidewalk is five to seven feet wide (FHWA 2010) and adding physical boundaries can help with pedestrian safety. Street trees can slow traffic and improve safety for pedestrians. Trees add visual interest to streets and narrow the street’s visual corridor, which may cause drivers to slow down (BPMP 2012). Therefore, “physical separation of sidewalks from curbs and parking areas reinforces a safer environment for pedestrians” (NRPA 2015, 6). Although stakeholders may identify a route as safe the community’s perception of safety may differ. Perceived safety is defined as the community interpretation and assessment of whether routes to parks are safe (Maroko et al. 2009). There is little to no research on the community assessment on whether routes to parks are safe. So part of our research would be conducting interviews with the residents on their thoughts about the routes to the park and the physical aspect of the park.
Research on how people use the Five Corners Roundabout, walking, biking or driving through the area now that it has been there over two years. Have the businesses in the area seen an increase in volume of customers? Are there new businesses near the roundabout? Are people walking and biking more? Do they perceive the roundabout as safe? These modern roundabouts improve traffic safety by slowing the speed and directing the flow of traffic in only one counterclockwise circle, reducing deaths and injuries significantly. Businesses in the area surrounding roundabouts show increased volume of customers (AARP 2017). Roundabouts are continuing to increase in abundance due to their high efficiency as when there is a four way intersection with stop signs or a traffic light, safety, and flow. With a roundabout there is a more continuous movement that is slower, but it is moving, therefore more efficient (Meiller 2012). As pedestrians and roundabouts continue to interact, the physical structure of the roundabouts makes an impact on this relationship.
Methods & Previous Studies
Getting people active through their local parks has become increasingly important at local, regional, and national levels. A national project, called Healthy Parks Healthy People, is an initiative geared towards shaping national parks to encourage public health and wellness as well as places to learn about environmental conservation (NPS; Schmalz et al. 2013). Although this initiative primarily involves well-educated experts, it can serve as a guide for more locally-oriented projects. The City of Bellingham, WA provides an excellent example of involving local people in their plan to increase pedestrian accessibility (BPMP 2012). Citizens were engaged through public workshops and surveys, which were used by city planners to define relevant issues for improving pedestrian access and mobility in Bellingham (BPMP 2012). An increasing number of studies have included the local community as community-based participatory research (CBPR) has become more popular in academia. Many studies have shown that close proximity to parks and green spaces have a positive impact on the mental and physical health of people (Floyd et al. 2008; Sturm & Cohen 2014; de Vries et al. 2003). These studies involve the community as research participants, important stakeholders, and as sources for ideas for improving park areas (Mowen et al. 2009).
Understanding how a community interacts and perceives streets, especially roundabouts, is key to understanding how they view streets and roundabouts to be walking accessible. While literature continues to grow on investigating this relationship, many cities and case studies have begun to implement structural changes, and research how the community perceives the public areas. Guth et al. (2005) implemented human subject experiences experiments to simulate the factor of safety perceived by the participants and walking in a roundabout. Additionally, in Candappa et al. (2014), implemented a survey to gather community perceptions, and also utilized their participant observations on how the community interacted with the crosswalks that they were researching on. In Sun et al. (2015) where they studied the perception of walking at a local university, they also utilized an online survey to gather the community’s perception of the area and walking accessibility. Furthermore, the City of Bellingham has begun to implement changes in their city that is focused on the walking accessibility and mobility of individuals in the community. The City of Bellingham’s master plan provides insight on how the needs of the community were identified through public workshops, surveys, and reviewing established built infrastructures and policies (BPMP 2012). Surveys, participant observations, photographs with visual analysis and structured and semi-structured interviews are proposed in this study to gather the City of Edmonds community perceptions and recommendations on the walking accessibility at Yost Park and the Five Corners Roundabout.
Methods: 3.1 Semi-Structured Interviews:
To conduct a semi-structured interview, the stakeholders in the community will be identified by the City of Edmonds and community organizations. Once the stakeholders (community members) are identified and have consented, the next step is to conduct the interviews. The questions for the interviews will be aimed to focus the interview to get a greater understand and personalized view of how the identified spaces (Yost Park and the roundabout) are perceived, utilized, and identify changes that are desired. The conductions of the interviews over an online video conference platform such as skype or in person if possible with the community citizens. Overall, we expect to conduct at least 5 interviews. Next, we would transcribe and analyze the interview recordings using Nvivo.
3.2 Online Survey:
The online survey will be then created using an online survey platform such as Qualtrics, in a mixed format of ranked order and open ended responses. The online survey will be distributed through the City of Edmonds social media accounts such as Facebook and Twitter in order to gather more information and understanding from the community as a whole. Due to the short timeline of this research process, the online survey will only be distributed and available for two weeks. Once the survey closes, analysis of the answers will be conducted. Completion of the survey should provide insight on how the community utilizes, perceives, and would like to change about the places of Yost Park and the roundabout.
3.3 Visual Analysis
Photographs of the park and roundabout will be used in this study. We will take photos of the landscape of the park (e.g. playground, tennis court, basketball court, swimming pool, and the hiking trails that they have at the park) We will also take photos of the perimeter of the roundabout and use the photos as only a reference to our notes. None of the photos at Yost park or the roundabout will have people in it where you can clearly see their faces. Any photos that does have that we will get permission from them.
3.4 Participant Observation
Participant observation will be used in this study as a method for us to observe how people use the space in the park and in the roundabout. A specific method of observation we might use is called SOPARC (System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities), which is used to directly observe park users’ physical activity, characteristics of individuals (age, sex, ethnicity) and collects information on aspects of the park’s environment, such as accessibility, usability, and organization (McKenzie & Cohen 2006). Along with direct observation, we will be active participants in the area by asking park users simple and informal questions like “What do you come here to do?” to start conversations to find out how people personally use the space. Engaging park users may also be a way to find people to do semi-structured interviews, if they are interested.
3.5 Protection of Human Subjects:
This study will involve human subjects for interviews, online survey, and analytic deliberation groups. To minimize risks and to comply to federal law, we will apply for IRB certification and an exemption form due to minimal risks to the subjects. Once the IRB form is approved, the first step in the methods for interviews will proceed. Additionally, we will provide consent forms for all interview, online survey, and analytic deliberation subjects to ensure that the participant is fully informed and acknowledges the human subject rights and voluntary participation.
In this study, we expect to see a lot of people using the trails and tennis courts. While children play on the playground. We do not expect families to stay at the park all day due to the fact that the park only has two portable toilets for the families to use. Recent studies have found that parks that have playgrounds, sport facilities, and trails are more likely to have more people at their park than parks that do not have these features (NRPA, 2015). We expect to see people driving to the park instead of walking because their is only one entrance to the park that you can drive through. Parks that have multiple access points can help pedestrian get to the park easier. The park entrances often results in longer walking distances for pedestrians “due to the limited number of entrances due to fencing and other barriers”(NRPA 2017, 6).
For the roundabout, we expect to find that not many pedestrians use the roundabout, as it is mainly for cars and there may be limited pedestrian access. We will assess how the roundabout affects the businesses near it and how safe the roundabout really is for pedestrians. Recent studies have shown that roundabouts are much safer than traditional stop sign or traffic light intersections, reducing injury crashes by as much as 75 %, and have many benefits like improving traffic flow and saving space and money for the city (WSDOT 2017). Despite these benefits, many people have a strong dislike for roundabouts as drivers and as pedestrians.