Block Talk Toolkit

What is a Block Talk?

Defining “Block Talk,” a.k.a. Walk Audit: Mark Fenton, a national public health, planning, and transportation consultant, defines a walk audit as a “facilitated group walk to explore the level of support for physical activity and active transportation” that is “best combined with feedback and planning session to develop recommendations for action.” Block Talks, the Greater-Omaha-specific program of walk audits, are an “effective tool for education, inspiration, and practical planning.”

A Block Talk is an unbiased evaluation of the active transportation environment. Omaha’s Active Living Advisory Committee defines active living as a way of life and a community culture that integrates physical activity into daily routines through transportation, recreation, and neighborhood choices that support walking, biking, active play and healthy options for all abilities and ages. Active living is also a cornerstone of the Heartland 2050 initiative, Close the Gap. The general purpose of a Block Talk is to “identify concerns for pedestrians and bicyclists related to the safety, access, comfort, and convenience of the environment.”

But, how? In addition to identifying problem areas, a Block Talk can be used to identify potential alternatives or solutions, such as programs, projects, and policies: the three P’s. Changes could include neighborhood level projects, such as litter pick-up and/or creating art murals, or projects that require city resources, such as curb extensions or putting up a light post in a dark park. Block Talks promote change only when the neighborhood owns the Block Talk and the ideas that come from it.

Explanation of Program, Project, and Policy: Program, project, and policy represent three levels of change that serve as a way to organize the ideas that come out of a Block Talk in the post-walk workshop. Short-term and long-term goals will be identified for each level during the workshop. A short-term goal is defined as something that could start being worked on in the next month, but may take several month to complete. A long-term goal is defined as something that requires time and planning, they usually take more than 12 months to achieve.

Live Well Omaha’s bike rodeos are an example of a program and teach children the importance of safe and active transportation for a healthy lifestyle.

Projects are neighborhood level actions that work to change the behavior of residents and others who use the streets, sidewalks, and space within the neighborhood. Projects might have the goal of encouraging more walking and bicycling, such as completing sidewalks or improving crosswalks; making the environment safer for residents through traffic calming efforts to reduce the speeds of vehicles or adding lights and cameras in alleys to ensure safer mobility at night; or beautifying an area by planting trees, putting up benches, etc. to encourage more outdoor activity.

Complete Streets Omaha is a practical public policy that will guide the future development of Omaha’s streets to provide safe, accessible streets for all users. Other communities in the Omaha-Council Bluffs metro, such as Ralston and Bellevue, have adopted Complete Streets policies as well. Complete Streets are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and transit riders of all ages and abilities. Complete Streets make it easy to cross the street, walk to shops, and bicycle to work.

Programs are community driven efforts to raise awareness and create support and demand for improvements in the neighborhood environment. These programs are usually quick to start and low cost. Programs can educate neighborhood residents, city officials, and local organizations and nonprofits about an issue affecting the wellbeing of the neighborhood as well as help to create more concrete, permanent plans for change.

This temporary area, called Trugs, is an example of a project and utilizes modular planters and seating to reclaim parts of Leavenworth Street in Omaha for pedestrians. Spaces that are suited for pedestrians rather than vehicles lead to lively, welcoming spaces for residents and businesses.

Policies are meant to reflect the long-term goals of the neighborhood and address things that may have been poorly designed in the first place. Common places neighborhoods look to foster long-term behavioral change include making changes in zoning codes, rules and regulations for residential subdivisions, street standards, and standards for neighborhood schools as well as advocating that local businesses and organizations implement policies that promote the wellbeing of the neighborhood.

How to Build Support

After deciding to hold a Block Talk, the first step is to gain local buy-in. This should come from neighborhood… continue reading

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