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Walking Audits by Dan Burden Can Open Your Eyes

By Matt Bach

What’s wrong with this picture?
Dan Burden conducts a walking audit in Linden, and makes his point by standing on top of a snowpile blocking the sidewalk.

Walkabilty expert Dan Burden was leading a group of Linden-area residents and officials when he spotted a large soot-blackened snow bank covering the sidewalk ahead.

As if he was going to play the children’s game “King of the Hill,” Burden climbed to the top of the snow bank, turned to the group on the walking audit in downtown Linden and said “what’s wrong with this picture?”

Everyone laughed—it was clear the snow bank shouldn’t be blocking the sidewalk and within the hour Linden City Manager Christopher Wren had it removed and the path once again clear for pedestrians.

It was a small example of what Burden and his walking audits can do for communities. In the simplest terms, a walking audit is a chance for a community to get an outside expert’s view of how walkable their community is or isn’t. Burden and his Walkable Communities Institute have given walking audits throughout Michigan and the nation. Using examples from these cities and from around the country, Burden leads community leaders through their streets pointing out strengths and weaknesses of their intersections, sidewalks and communities.

Dan Burden was in Michigan in February, conducting walking audits in Lapeer, Lathrup Village, and Linden. He walks through a community and explains how to make it more pedestrian friendly. Photos by Matt Bach.

Sometimes the tips he gives are simple, such as removing the snow bank over the sidewalk, but others are much more difficult and expensive, such as constructing a multi-use development along a river bank in Lapeer; building a tunnel-like road for Southfield Road going through Oakland County’s Lathrup Village; and installing a “roundabout” intersection in downtown Linden. Improving a community’s walkability can dramatically increase property values, attract new jobs and improve the overall economy, Burden said, “You can’t have a city that works well for both cars and people,” Burden said. “You want a town that’s focused on pedestrians and accommodates vehicles.” By putting people, not cars, at the center of design, communities across the country are building attractive, livable environments with strong economies.

A handful of Michigan communities have already realized the benefits of improving walkability in their downtowns and neighborhoods. Burden, of Washington state, has done a lot of work in Michigan and said some of his favorite “walkable communities” in our state are Brighton, Holland, Milford, Birmingham, Traverse City, Kalamazoo, East Lansing, Mackinac Island, Marquette, Saugatuck, Grand Haven, and Niles.

Michigan community officials who’ve recently had Burden in their communities said his walking audits get them thinking outside the box and get the dialogue going in their communities.

“It was great to have Dan Burden in Linden,” Linden Mayor David Lossing said. “He provided us an engineering sketch for a roundabout and we’re seriously considering it.”
With sufficient demand, the League will coordinate a visit with Dan Burden to Michigan to provide audits to several communities. Contact Heather Van Poucker at hvanpoucker@mml.org if you are willing to commit dollars and a date for a walking audit.

 

Matt Bach is communications director for the League. You may reach him at 734-669-6317 or mbach@mml.org.


 

 

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