Health coalition assesses Boulevard's walkability

Chip Ellis
Ashley Dunkle (center) and Jamie Jeffrey (right) lead the KEYS 4 HealthyKids Youth Council on a walking safety assessment of Kanawha Boulevard intersections.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It may come as no surprise to anyone who has ever crossed four lanes of traffic without a crosswalk, but some intersections of Kanawha Boulevard can be unsafe for pedestrians.That's what officials from the local group KEYS 4 HealthyKids found Monday afternoon when they did walkability audits of five such intersections in downtown Charleston.With its sidewalks that overlook the river, Kanawha Boulevard is one of the places residents use the most for physical activity, said Jamie Jeffrey, a physician and project director for KEYS."The sun is shining. You can see the city. It's awesome," Jeffrey said while standing on the Boulevard Monday afternoon. "But you don't feel safe."Members of the KEYS Youth Council, made up of youths from the West Side and East End of Charleston, did assessments of the crossing areas of Kanawha Boulevard and Clendenin, Leon Sullivan, McFarland, Brooks and Morris streets.In November, Charleston City Council's Streets and Traffic Committee endorsed a resolution asking highway engineers to consider adding stoplights to Kanawha Boulevard at those intersections.The KEYS youth council plans to present its findings to Charleston City Council as a way to support the installation of those stoplights.KEYS is a grant-funded program that aims to address the childhood obesity epidemic by increasing children's access to healthy, affordable foods and safe places to play.During the audits, youth council members assessed whether pedestrians had room to walk on the sidewalks, whether it is easy to cross streets and drivers' behavior, among other things.
Jeffrey was most concerned with a lack of crosswalks, curb cutouts that don't match on both sides of the Boulevard and pose obstacles to easily crossing, steep staircases that connect the upper sidewalks along the Boulevard to lower sidewalks near the river, and the through lane of continuously flowing traffic, she said.Mataio Swain, president of the youth council, said he runs on the Boulevard about once a week.While he has no trouble crossing the street, others -- especially those riding bicycles -- may not have it so easy, he said."I think they should make some changes" to the Boulevard, said Swain, 14.In May and November of last year, KEYS held community forums among residents on the West Side and the East End to learn about what barriers people have to eating healthy and being physically active. Residents said that the lack of crosswalks and rushing traffic is a barrier to using the Boulevard for physical activity.The KEYS Youth Council did similar audits last year of the area around Magic Island.
The council aims to do a full report with pictures of the safety issues at the intersections.KEYS hopes to have the report on the Kanawha Boulevard done by the end of April, said program assistant Ashley Dunkle.Reach Lori Kersey at or 304-348-1240.
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