Tigard picks up gauntlet in walkability challenge
City sets sights on being most pedestrian-friendly community
With three major highways running through it, Tigard is probably best known for its traffic and congestion. But a group of planners and students are hoping to change that perception: They want it to be a great place to get out of your car and take a stroll.
City officials began work this year on a project to make Tigard the single most walkable city in the Pacific Northwest.
It has been fermenting for many, many months, said Kenny Asher, the citys community development director. Its now starting to come to fruition.
Its a lofty goal, admits Jeremy Dalton, a graduate student in Portland State Universitys urban planning department, but hes willing to try.
Dalton and a group of urban planning students have formed StepUp Studio, an organization devoted to transforming Tigards mishmash of sidewalks, trails and parks into a functioning system.
People see Tigard, and they say that it is walkable because it has trails and its pretty and its green, he said, walking along a sidewalk near Fowler Middle School. Its a nice place to walk your dog. And thats true, it is walkable in terms of recreation and health, but what makes a city walkable is if you can safely and comfortably and conveniently be a pedestrian for a lot of different purposes.
Dalton said the issue goes beyond having a place to walk your dog.
Its about the way the city is designed, he said. Are people safe to walk? Can they get places easily?
Can you walk and grab a bag of groceries, or do you have to drive because there isnt a grocery store within three miles? Dalton asked.
Sometimes thats as easy as adding a sidewalk. Other times the city needs to change the way it builds neighborhoods and streets, Dalton said.
Learn more about the plans at Tigardwalks.com
Why is having a walkable city so important?
A more walkable city brings people together, said Kenny Asher, Tigards community development director.
It builds up connections that people have to their neighborhoods, to each other, to the government, to the business community, he said. We want to do that in as many ways as we can imagine.
Asher said that when coming up with an identity and vision for the city, it was important to find something that could actually be achieved.
There are lots of things that cities try, Asher said. Whether its attracting a university or building a sports stadium or dressing up Main Street like a Spanish town. What we need to do, personally, is understand that the city needs to be designed for people first. And when you have a place thats walkable, whether thats a city, a neighborhood or a street, people are happy to be there. It feels good, and people are more likely to invest there in the way of buildings, or social investments in the place itself.
Today, the citys layout requires people to drive just about anywhere, Asher said. But that could change.
Thats the Tigard a lot of people experience, and tens of thousands of people who move through it know it as a highway town, Asher said. But the city is reassessing what its real assets are and wont be taken in too much by the fact we have a large state highway that barrels through it. It takes a fresh perspective.
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