Walk Wise, Drive Smart

Hendersonville, North Carolina

A neighborhood-based project creating pedestrian-friendly environments.

Identifying the Issue:
Like many communities, Hendersonville, North Carolina found that its aging infrastructure was lacking for many older adults—it had accommodated traffic without considering pedestrians for so long that many busy two-lane collector routes had been widened to five-lanes with a center two-way left turn lane. These designs improved the efficiency of traffic but made it hard for pedestrians, especially older adults, to cross safely and confidently. When the problem was identified, 31.2 percent of the population was aged 65 or older and 27.4 percent of the population had one or more disabilities, making safety a real concern for many residents.

Establishing Goals:
To remedy this issue, the Henderson County Livable and Senior Friendly Community Initiative emerged to start the Walk Wise, Drive Smart program. It aimed to create more pedestrian-friendly environments within Hendersonville by building upon established community relationships and using community input to guide improvements to the walkability of Hendersonville. The goals of the program were to:

  • Create safer and more inviting neighborhood walking environments;
  • Use interviews and audits as catalysts for community action; and
  • Evaluate a combination of education, encouragement, enforcement and environmental strategies to improve senior pedestrian safety and walkability.
Connecting with the Community:
The program pursued its goals by focusing on ten specific neighborhoods within the city limits and the extraterritorial jurisdictions, all of which had a large proportion of older adult residents. Within each neighborhood, staff conducted focus group meetings and interviews where residents provided input to popular walking routes and the walking conditions on those routes. Residents were also asked to fill out a shortened version of the Neighborhood Environmental Walking Survey (NEWS) to record their perception of walking conditions in their neighborhoods.

From the workshops and interviews, staff identified popular walking routes where they were able to conduct audits and identify needed changes. Staff also learned that residents had several other requests, including information on who to call about problems (like vehicles parked on the sidewalk), a desire to be included in the city’s decision making process and they reached a consensus that with limited resources it was a priority to create one safe route per neighborhood.

Planning for Action:
Based on community feedback and input gathered from partners and advisory committee members, staff developed an action plan with three main objectives:
  1. Provide educational workshops and a series of walking audits of neighborhoods in Hendersonville; 
  2. Gather extensive community feedback through surveys and interviews; and 
  3. Identify features needed to implement a pedestrian safety plan that is responsive to the specific needs of residents in Hendersonville. 
According to the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC), Walk Wise, Drive Smart conducted several successful events and programs, including frequent organized walks aimed at senior citizens that were open for all, which provided “a great way to get seniors to exercise at a pace and location that is comfortable for everyone who participates.” Based on feedback from Walk Wise, Drive Smart provided to Hendersonville’s city manager and the director of public works, improvements like repaving crosswalks, building new sidewalk sections, and filling in holes or pits were made, and routes were completed. The initiative also helped to collect pre and post observational data for the city when it experimented with flashing traffic signals on Main Street. Once the data was collected and analyzed, the City Council voted on a return to normal traffic signal operation, the option deemed safer in Walk Wise, Drive Smart’s official report.

Lessons Learned:
Following community workshops, Walk Wise, Drive Smart consulted local and state-level advisory committees to develop their action plan. These advisory committees consisted of representatives from city and state government and key stakeholder organizations across many sectors, as well as interested older adults. The program’s final report identifies these partnerships as critical to the initiative’s success, stating that “these various partnerships…allowed for a significant degree of leveraging of support and resources from other sources.” The partnerships may also have contributed to the program’s wide range of funding—from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, and the City of Hendersonville, among many others.

Applying a Replicable Model:
The program was intentionally developed with the purpose of being replicable in similar settings. Therefore, you will find maps of walking routes in different neighborhoods, educational materials for pedestrians and drivers, as well as information about the context of the program on the program’s website. All are intended to provide a similar framework for future projects in other communities looking to encourage active transport for older adults, while improving the pedestrian environment for people of all ages.

Bill Hunter
Senior Research Scientist
Highway Safety Research Center
Phone: 919.962.8716

USAging Fact: Learn about your peers’ work—and how it can fit into your agency’s goals! The AIA Awards recognizes successful and innovative programs that USAging members have developed to serve older adults. Get inspiration from our 2023 winners!