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News // October 01, 2014

A Regional Account of Creating Walkable Communities

The County of San Diego’s regions were hard at work these past few weeks to prepare for Mark Fenton’s visit to help improve communities and their walkability. Mark Fenton is an expert in building communities that support a healthier, active population. His background focuses on public health, planning and transportation. This month he visited the County's North, Central and South regions for three separate workshops with community members.
North Regions
On the morning of September 18, 2014, more than 60 engineers, planners, employers, school representatives and elected officials curiously glanced at a small, mustachioed man hunched over his laptop at the front of the large community hall. Excited whispers buzzed throughout the room as they talked prior to the start of the Healthy Transportation: The Intersection Between Businesses, Neighborhoods and Schools workshop.  Unbeknownst to many of them, the quiet man in the front was national public health, planning and transportation expert Mark Fenton - and they would soon find out he was anything but quiet.

“Don’t let parking be the tail that wags the dog!” exclaimed Fenton to begin his presentation.

He did not need a microphone to make his point clear.

There has been a trend in community development that has put the focus on the ease of moving cars around as opposed to creating streets and places that are accessible by all modes of transportation and by all people regardless of age, ability, or socioeconomic status. This type of development is creating communities where streets are unsafe for pedestrians and bicyclists and physical activity is no longer naturally a part of the everyday routine. Activities such as using a bicycle to run errands or walking to school have become unconventional modes of transportation. In fact, since the 1970’s there has been a dramatic reduction in children walking and biking to school and conversely a large spike in childhood obesity during that same 30+ year time span.

“The reason I do this is because our children will be the first generation to have shorter life spans than their parents,” Fenton solemnly stated with photographs of his two children projected in front of the room.

Fenton presented a variety of transportation solutions to the workshop participants, which included representatives from almost all cities in North San Diego County and County Supervisors. The participants joined one of three breakout discussion groups tasked with coming up with their own tangible action steps and policy changes.  The Safe Routes to School group, facilitated by Brian Gaze of Circulate San Diego and Mim  Michelove of Healthy Day Partners, felt that a first step in improving Safe Routes to School projects in the region would be to convene a multi-disciplinary, North County-specific coalition to share best practices and leverage resources.  Similarly, the participants of the Implementing Complete Streets group, facilitated by Doug Bilse of the City of Carlsbad, felt that it would be beneficial to have some sort of a forum for agencies and cities to report out on how they are implementing “complete streets” projects, those that keep all road users in mind.  The small but mighty Business Transportation group facilitated by Matthew Tucker of North County Transit District thought that the best way to promote programs and policies that encourage commute alternatives would be to have a liaison between business chambers and transportation agencies.

To support local networking, the group was given the opportunity to meet others working in their community and explore next steps.  Many participants agreed, this was not only an interesting and engaging workshop, but it is the beginning of some much-needed regional collaboration.  Mr. Gaze expressed that this event “…served as a call to action to continue the hard work still to be done.” 

The County of San Diego plans to review the action steps and solutions brought up by the breakout sessions and support further collaboration around healthy transportation.

For more information about Healthy Transportation efforts in North County, contact Anita Walia at

Central and South Regions
A combined total of 87 community members, County, city and community agency staff attended the two workshops held on a Wednesday and Thursday in the Central and South regions.
In the Central region the workshop was held at the Malcolm X Library in Southeastern San Diego. The event began with a “Walk with the Expert” walk audit which started at the library and ended at a local mural and pocket park created by the Urban Collaborative Project. Afterwards, participants attended the training by Mark Fenton to learn about ways to make their communities safer and more walkable and split into groups to provide input on what they would like to implement in their specific communities. These topics included food injustice (accessibility to unhealthy fast food), sidewalk infrastructure including lighting and lack of pavement, homeowner safety issues and liability on properties.

There were great takeaway messages for the intergenerational group that included a group of teenagers and a Resident Learning Academy (RLA) graduate.

In the South region the workshop was held at the Chula Vista Police Department Community Room. The meeting was a follow-up to the workshop conducted last year.  As a result of last year's workshop, the Live Well San Diego South Region Leadership team developed stealth charts for every city in South Region.  Additionally, a cities' forum was hosted where all the cities in South Region who have been designated Live Well San Diego recognized partners presented all the work they are currently doing and what they are planning in the future that is aligned with Live Well San Diego.  The County’s Parks & Recreation department unveiled a brochure for all the parks in the South Region, which includes the Bayshore Bikeway.  One of the projects that can potentially be adopted for a collective goal is the Bayshore Bikeway connection through National City.

Altogether, this follow-up event reminded attendees of the importance of setting goals and strategizing with multiple city and County partners to help leverage and support these goals.

The workshops in all regions were a success helping community members unite and identify important goals for themselves and their fellow residents.