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Walking expert Mark Fenton audits area walkability
Mark Fenton, right, a national walking guru leads a group of local community leaders on a walking tour and asssessment of the Downtown area. Dick Riniker photo

Mark Fenton took community leaders on a walking tour of downtown La Crosse Tuesday to find areas that lend themselves to walking and biking.

Fenton, a national walking expert who works with communities on walkability issues, said he found too few bicycle racks and platoons of traffic on one-way streets that discourage walking and biking.

He said converting one-way streets to two-way promotes pedestrian safety and traffic. Fenton said he would like to see more bike lanes and countdown walking traffic signals to alert walkers to the number of seconds left to cross the streets.

"We must build communities where people are intrinsically more active," Fenton said.

Fenton, host of the PBS series, "America's Walking," said the La Crosse area has an amazing bike trail system, which needs to be marketed so everyone, including visitors, knows about it.

The local Pioneering Healthier Communities Team brought Fenton to town this week to help community leaders develop programs, projects and policies to encourage more walking and biking.

Fenton favors combining stores, apartments and other residential space with parking structures to keep people downtown.

"If you have to build a parking structure, design it well, wrap it into retail, charge the true cost and reinvest the money locally," Fenton said.

About the recent work on West Avenue, Fenton said he wished bike lanes could have been added along with other efforts to reduce traffic.

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Making communities more accessible for walking and biking also is good for business, Fenton said.

"The centrifugal force of sprawling growth pulls economic energy away from village and city centers," he said.

He said city plan commission members should ask four questions when considering development:

  • Are destinations within walking and biking distance?
  • Are there sidewalks, trails, bike lanes and crossings?
  • Are there inviting settings for bikes and pedestrians?
  • Is it safe and accessible?

"If the answers to the questions are yes, then you're more likely to see routine physical activity," Fenton said.

Walking and biking trails should have connections to places, be close to destinations and become an integral part of community life, Fenton said. "Trails should not be designed for escape," he said.

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