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Tigard picks up gauntlet in walkability challenge

City sets sights on being most pedestrian-friendly community


by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - PSU student Jeremy Dalton points out a weak area of the walkability of the Fowler Middle School neighborhood, a section crossing Walnut Avenue that has limited visibility and no crosswalk.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 city’s community development director. “It’s now starting to come to fruition.”

It’s a lofty goal, admits Jeremy Dalton, a graduate student in Portland State University’s urban planning department, but he’s willing to try.

Dalton and a group of urban planning students have formed StepUp Studio, an organization devoted to transforming Tigard’s 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 it’s pretty and it’s green,” he said, walking along a sidewalk near Fowler Middle School. “It’s a nice place to walk your dog. And that’s 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.

It’s 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 isn’t a grocery store within three miles?” Dalton asked.

Sometimes that’s 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?

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Portland State University students lead a neighborhood tour near Fowler Middle School to talk about the walkability of the area. A more walkable city brings people together, said Kenny Asher, Tigard’s 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 it’s 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 that’s walkable, whether that’s 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 city’s layout requires people to drive just about anywhere, Asher said. But that could change.

“That’s 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 won’t be taken in too much by the fact we have a large state highway that barrels through it. It takes a fresh perspective.”