Throughout downtown Franklin, wide sidewalks and greenspace help entice people to restaurants, shops and businesses.
Pedestrian crosswalks and signals make it easy and safe for them to cross the streets and move around freely. The nearby Historic Greenway Trail serves as a main artery for runners, walkers and cyclists to feed into the downtown area.
The successes in making the center of Franklin more pedestrian friendly were on display Thursday and Friday, when the city hosted leaders from 13 counties in central Indiana to discuss trails, city design and how to make communities more walkable for residents.
They learned about different approaches to accessibility, and took audits of the U.S. 31 corridor and the downtown area to point out specific examples of what works in attracting people and what doesn’t.
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Organizers hope that participants figure out the best way to make cities pedestrian-friendly, an aspect that research has shown to have direct impacts on real estate value and quality of life.
“We’re going to use the observations from Franklin as sort of a baseline. These communities can see that this is what Franklin is doing to identify ways to help with walkability, and then you can bring these back to their communities,” said Lacey Everett, a representative from MIBOR Realtor Association.
The two-day event was organized by MIBOR Realtor Association, an Indianapolis-based organization representing realtors in 12 counties, including Johnson County. The group partnered with the city of Franklin and the National Association of Realtors to organize the workshop and audit.
The association has made walkability — the ability for people to move between their homes, work, businesses and other attractions without driving — a top priority, Everett said.
“One of the key factors for many individuals and families in the decision on where to buy a home includes walkability,” she said. “This is why we’ve advocated for cities to address walkability issues and incorporate best practices that involve pedestrian-friendly components when developing comprehensive plans.”
Towns and cities throughout Johnson County have made efforts to build trails and walkways to connect communities. Besides the Greenway Trail, Franklin has built walkways around Franklin Community High School and other areas of the city.
Greenwood’s system of trails networks across the entire city. Whiteland residents are starting their own trail effort, and more discussion is being made on county-wide connectivity.
“Johnson County has done a great job of looking for ways to improve their municipalities and areas,” Everett said. “Being able to replicate that kind of activity in other municipalities would be very easy.”
Franklin in particular has done work on the topic that made it an ideal place to host an event on walkability, said Dana Monson, Aspire Johnson County coordinator for the Johnson County Development Corp.
“Franklin stood out (to MIBOR) because of the work they have done to the downtown, and the miles of trails that they’ve done, the way they’ve leveraged their grants to get the most bang for the buck,” she said. “They wanted to have an opportunity to showcase best practices to some other communities in the region, and then to provide this audit to look at what we have going on well, then what are some things we can do to keep this progress going.”
Representatives from MIBOR reached out to the Johnson County Development Corp. and its community-building effort Aspire Johnson County to help support the event.
“We are very involved in quality-of-life amenities and issues, place-making and helping to define Johnson County as a great place to live,” Monson said. “It’s important to our workforce. We know that to keep our companies here, companies need a well-skilled workforce, and those folks want to live in a nice place. Trails and walkability is an economic driver.”
The program was broken into two portions.
On Thursday, officials took a driving tour of a mile-long stretch of U.S. 31, along the growing retail hub of the city from Jefferson to Main streets.
They stopped to look at newly built aspects that worked well in allowing residents to walk to the restaurants, groceries and other stores located along it. But in many of the places, no sidewalks existed. Crossing from one side of the bustling highway to the other was dangerous and nearly impossible.
“Every community has a corridor like this, where that major highway creates a barrier. This will be a great way to take a look and see what they could bring back to their area,” Everett said.
The gathering continued on Friday, with a “walkshop” focusing on increasing pedestrian access.
Consultants from Blue Zones, an organization focused on improving health and lowering healthcare costs, spoke about the ways cities have used sidewalks, trails and city planning to make healthier residents. They showcased efforts that have helped areas become more walkable, and focused on Franklin’s work on the Jefferson Street corridor as a local example.
“We love that we get to show off what we do well, but we also want to learn what we can do better,” said Rhoni Oliver, Franklin community development specialist. “We’re really excited to have all of these people from around the region see what we have going on.”
Another mini-audit was done walking around Franklin’s downtown. Dan Burden, a representative of Blue Zones, talked about the things that planners had done well — converting pedestrian alleyways, expanding sidewalks out and making space for tables and benches where people can congregate.
The remodeled facades and signs on the businesses along Jefferson Street made for one of the more memorable cities Burden had worked in.
“This is one of the greatest blocks you could dream up,” he said. “The window treatments, the signs, all come together as a work of art.”
Burden also pointed out what could be improved. Rain gardens could have been implemented to capture rainwater and improve drainage. Crossing signals at the intersections could have been installed without forcing people to push a button to activate them, giving the impression that pedestrians are secondary.
Taking what had been discussed and learned in the audits, participants spent the rest of the workshop creating action plans.
For Johnson County leaders, the event was an opportunity not only to showcase strides that have been made in pedestrian access, but to figure out the best way to make the entire county ideal for connectivity.
“We can not only learn from the experts coming in, but also to help promote and acknowledge what we have here that’s doing so well,” Monson said.