York's walking touts economic benefit
A healthy city is an active city. A more active city tends to be a more attractive and well-patronized city.
At least that’s the thinking behind nonprofits like York’s Downtown Inc.
Last week, York launched its WalkWorks program. The Pennsylvania Department of Health partnered with the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health Center for Public Practice to develop a network of community-based walking routes. The program is now available in 16 different counties in the commonwealth. It's designed to increase opportunities for physical activity.
In York’s route, which is just over a mile, participants are guided through the downtown. Nicole Smith, a community health specialist with the City of York, developed the route that passes five points of interest, including The Heritage Rail Trail Park, Penn Market, The Appell Center, Central Market and the Colonial Courthouse.
Though health is the main goal behind the initiative for York City’s Bureau of Health, a secondary benefit of WalkWorks is exposing people to the retail and restaurants in the downtown.
“It’s kind of the gold standard in a city if you have a vibrant pedestrian community with places that are safe and convenient to walk down,” said Silas Chamberlin, CEO of Downtown Inc. “The hope is, as people are walking, even though it was plotted for public health reasons, people will patronize or come back and patronize.”
Downtown Inc also provided input and feedback about the WalkWorks trail loop and collaborated on signage encouraging cyclists to walk their bikes on sidewalks.
As far as partnering with the Bureau of Health, Chamberlin said that Downtown Inc has similar goals to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists in downtown York. In the past, the nonprofit has worked with the bureau on smaller tactical projects such as assisting with site selection for the Zagster Bike Share Program, supporting its expansion and promoting it to visitors and residents. The bike-share program offers an alternate and convenient way to commute around town.
Downtown Inc also recently installed some metal art sculptures that double as bike racks around York City, including the corner of Beaver and Market streets and right outside of Isaac’s.
“If people are coming downtown on any scale that’s different than driving downtown, they have more time to stop and look at businesses and window shop and be drawn in with window displays,” Chamberlin said. “We’re making a broad effort to make the downtown better. In the 21st century, to have a competitive downtown you need to have an accessible city. People won’t want to work, shop or live here if you don’t.”