Photo by Don Nelson
Walking “auditors” found that at times, pedestrians and wheelchair users have nowhere to go but into the street in downtown Winthrop.

Walking ‘auditors’ find uneasy footing in downtown Winthrop

By Don Nelson

This is going to be a pedestrian story.

Anybody who has spent much time navigating downtown Winthrop on foot, especially when it’s busy, could tell a similar tale.

It would be about the hodgepodge of frequently disrupted Riverside Avenue walking corridors in a town that relies on foot traffic for its economic livelihood. They include boardwalks, pavement, gravel patches and dirt paths. Their use is made more difficult by varying widths, uneven surfaces, obstructions, driveway crossings, ditches, uncertain transitions, inadequate signage and potentially dangerous encounters with motor traffic and bicyclists.

Think about the varied roadside territory a walker traverses from Rocking Horse Bakery to the Spring Creek Bridge. There are no sidewalks. Parked cars may block any option other than diverting onto the highway. Then try it coming back, on the other side of the road, all the way to Town Hall at the four-way stop. Simply walking can be treacherous. If you’re also texting, you’re in trouble.

Or consider this: There are six driveways to cross between the Tenderfoot and the end of Riverside Avenue, each with its own issues.

Fully-abled people ignore these conditions at their peril. Now imagine yourself in a wheelchair, or using a cane or walker, negotiating that same terrain.

And we haven’t even talked about winter yet.

Winthrop’s saving grace is that almost no one on foot is in a particular hurry to get somewhere. Maneuvering at slower speeds reduces the likelihood of missteps.

Mobility audit

Last week, about 25 people toured the streets of Winthrop to take a hard look at how hard it can be to simply stroll or ride a bike through the town. The foot-powered expedition was part of the “Winthrop in Motion: Walking Audit and Big Ideas Workshop” last Thursday (Sept. 28), organized by the Town of Winthrop as part of a plan to improve overall mobility in the downtown area.

The walking auditors split into three groups, each of which included a wheelchair and a hula-hoop, because the width of the hoop is about the amount of space a typical person requires for walking. Some portions of the boardwalk are barely more than a hula-hoop wide, factoring in posters and other impediments.

Before the walking tour, town staff and consultants who have been hired to help develop the mobility plan talked about what Winthrop hopes to accomplish.

Chris Saleeba, senior design associate with Seattle-based Alta Planning + Design, said goals include creating safe conditions for everyone using the streets and sidewalks, including bicyclists and motorists; improved accessibility throughout downtown; and better connections between parts of the community. The town also must comply with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements for access.

Saleeba encouraged tour participants, most of them citizen volunteers, to be on the lookout for “barriers and conflict points” that create obstructions. He also asked them to think about potential solutions.

Participants on the tour noted the challenging Rocking Horse-Spring Creek Bridge route; some confusion with signage; inconsistencies in the boardwalks; a lack of clearly marked crosswalks other than at the four-way stop; and safety concerns about angle-in parking.

Ideas offered by participants included:

• Making offsite parking a better experience by connecting satellite lots at the Winthrop Barn and Winthrop Rink with viable pedestrian paths.

• Considering strategies for diverting truck traffic.

• Widening boardwalks throughout downtown.

• Providing more “respite places” from the street, such as Confluence Park.

Information gathered from the walking audit will be included in an overall “streetscape” plan the town is developing with the help of a $250,000 state grant.