Two Grad Students Help Make a City Walkable

by Amy Marcott on April 30, 2012 · 0 comments

in IAP, Student Life, Transportation, Travel

Guest blogger: Joseph Cutrufo, program coordinator, WalkBoston

Mariko Davidson at work on the Spicket River Greenway.

Mariko Davidson at work on the Spicket River Greenway.

This past January, two local nonprofit organizations enlisted the help of MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning graduate students Mariko Davidson and Jocelyn Drummond to work on a project aimed at making Lawrence, Massachusetts, more walkable. Davidson and Drummond, along with the pedestrian advocacy organizations WalkBoston and Groundwork Lawrence, which builds healthy communities through environmental and open-space improvements, developed a plan that addresses pedestrian safety issues and increases walkability around the Spicket River Greenway, which is currently under construction.

Lawrence was established as one of the earliest planned industrial cities in the mid-1800s with a thriving industry based on textile mills. Today, it is one of the poorest cities in Massachusetts and has the highest rate of obesity and diabetes in the Commonwealth. On the surface, the Spicket River Greenway is a recreational path where residents can walk, run or bike. But Davidson and Drummond learned that this particular greenway means so much more than that to Lawrence. In addition to creating a linear park, this three-mile long “emerald bracelet” connects a variety of open spaces and neighborhoods, helps the community achieve the dual goals of riverfront restoration and neighborhood revitalization, remediates a contaminated brownfield, and reduces chronic flooding. Now Groundwork Lawrence and WalkBoston are working to link this area’s schools and major employers to the new Greenway. Without sidewalks or crosswalks, it will be difficult and potentially dangerous for pedestrians to access the path.

Davidson and Drummond developed a plan that highlights safe pedestrian routes and proposes design solutions to connect people by foot from throughout Lawrence to the Greenway. This plan is a critical component in the partnership between WalkBoston and Groundwork Lawrence, and it will help direct future initiatives of the City of Lawrence’s Mayor’s Health Task Force.

After meeting with the WalkBoston and Groundwork Lawrence staff, they assessed the existing conditions of routes connecting schools and other key institutions, such as Lawrence General Hospital, with the Greenway. Then they identified problem areas—dangerous intersections and places where sidewalks are in disrepair—and mapped them. They also created a list of recommendations that will improve access to and from the Greenway.

Davidson and Drummond are also working on interpretive signage for the Greenway to enhance trail users’ experiences by telling stories about sites along the Greenway. They conducted research at the Lawrence History Center, combing through achives, newspaper articles, photos, postcards, and oral archives to develop signage that will be located at sites including the Arlington Mills and the former location of the Oxford Paper company.

Moving forward, the work Davidson and Drummond have produced will help guide WalkBoston’s work with Groundwork Lawrence in making Lawrence a more walkable, livable community.

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