Wearing bright green reflective vests, volunteers piled off a bus in Henrietta and began walking.

Along the way, they stopped to note the conditions they saw: uneven or missing sidewalks, no crosswalk striping nor any bike lanes. Long grass, potholes and litter were dutifully documented using the AARP Walk Audit Tool.

These volunteers were part of a group conducting walk audits June 6 and 8 to assess the walkability, accessibility and safety of Calkins Road between East Henrietta Road and Pinnacle Road. The walk audits are a pilot project for the Monroe County Aging Alliance, AARP, Reconnect Rochester, Lifespan, Common Ground Health, and the United Way of Greater Rochester and the Finger Lakes.

Volunteers walked a short distance, the full street, or sat or stood to observe conditions on the street. Data collected will be shared with town officials and with the Monroe County Transportation Department and project design team, as improvements to this section Calkins Road are considered. According to the Monroe County Crash Map maintained by Reconnect Rochester, there has been one pedestrian serious injury and four cyclists injured on this particular stretch of Calkins Road during the last 10 years.

“Walk audits are a tool used by neighborhoods to inform and create healthier, age-friendly, livable communities,” said Leanne Rorick, co-director of the Monroe County Aging Alliance, which has led efforts to develop and implement the Rochester/Monroe County age-friendly plan. “Walkable communities improve physical health by encouraging regular exercise and fostering a strong sense of community, connection, and safety for people of all ages.”

Promoting more walkable and accessible spaces is a key recommendation in the AARP-approved, local plan: Creating a Community for a Lifetime: An Action Plan for an Age-friendly/Livable Rochester and Monroe County. The Aging Alliance, leading the Calkins Road Walk Audit Pilot, has collaborated with various community partners to develop and implement the Rochester/Monroe County age-friendly plan.

“Our public spaces must be for everyone, no matter their abilities,” said Wade Norwood, CEO of Common Ground Health. “Older adults deserve safe and walkable streets, which can reduce social isolation and loneliness. Including older adults in design conversations ensures they can make meaningful contributions to their communities.” 

Among the factors that discourage or prevent people from walking are multilane roadways, high-speed corridors that are unsafe to cross, a lack of street maintenance, a scarcity of sidewalks. According to Smart Growth America’s 2021 Dangerous by Design report, from 2010 to 2019, drivers in the U.S. struck and killed 53,435 pedestrians — an average of more than 14 people each day. In 2017, an estimated 137,000 pedestrians were treated in emergency rooms for nonfatal crash-related injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Everyone should have the right to walk around their neighborhood,” said Kat Fisher, AARP’s Associate State Director for Community Engagement. “Unfortunately, many communities were built to accommodate cars, not pedestrians. Walkability is an important issue to AARP because older adults — along with people of color and residents of low-income communities — are disproportionately the victims of fatal motor vehicle crashes involving pedestrians. We encourage walk audits so government leaders can make their communities more livable by addressing the lack of sidewalks, sidewalks that suddenly end and unsafe crosswalks.” 

A walk audit can help inform local decision-making by prioritizing areas in need of improvement and educating community members about the importance of street and sidewalk design. Participating in a walk audit can help people become better champions for local change.

“People are more likely to walk in their neighborhoods when the conditions of the sidewalks, crossings and roads make them feel it is safe to do so. The AARP has provided an important tool for safe streets advocates to document current conditions and share findings with local government and decision makers who may be in a position to improve safety and walkability,” said Cody Donahue, Director of Policy and Advocacy for Reconnect Rochester.

“Street and pedestrian redesigns can make walking safer for everyone,” said Ann Marie Cook, President and CEO of Lifespan. “Walkability studies have the potential to inform non-car centric mobility modifications for a growing population of older persons.”

“When individuals have a sense of community, feel connected to their neighbors and can access their vital resources, they thrive,” said Jaime Saunders, president & CEO of United Way of Greater Rochester and the Finger Lakes. “How our communities are designed has a profound impact on our sense of belonging. Social isolation, loneliness, and poor health outcomes are mitigated when we create communities for all. We are proud to partner with Monroe County Aging Alliance’s walk audit to assess opportunities to increase access for all.”