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turlough

Is Sumter pedestrian friendly?

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Sumter County Active Lifestyles director Annette Cook is proud of the accomplishments the organization has made in the first five years of its existence. She can point to the achievements of SCAL's individual committees, all of which are aimed at enhancing citizens' easy access to opportunities for physical activity.

"We've printed walking maps and marked them with signs and (sidewalk) logos, seven parks have been adopted through our Adopt-a-Park program, we've printed a physical activity flier, we host National Trails Day, and we're kicking off our mall-walking program, Heart and Soles, at Sumter Mall in March," she cited as examples of SCAL's work.

The program will continue for at least another five years, Cook said.

"We're in our transition year," she explained. "Our next five years will begin in October."

During that period, SCAL's efforts will turn to making the community safer and more "user friendly" for cyclists, Cook said. Before that, however, SCAL, along with the city and county of Sumter, schools, businesses, civic organizations and the public, will reflect on the successes and try to determine what still needs to be done.

"We concentrated on pedestrians for the past five years," Cook said, "and I believe that more and more people are taking advantage of Sumter's environment to get out and walk more. Over the next five years, we hope to do the same for cyclists."

Cook pointed out that there are no "bike lanes in Sumter, and often cyclists have to load their bikes in their cars and drive to some place like Dillon Park to ride. Wouldn't it be nice if we could just get on our bikes in our own yards and go out for a ride?"

In order to look at the area's accessibility and safety for pedestrians and cyclists, Charles Gandy, the leading consultant with Living Communities Consulting of Austin, Texas, will spend five days in Sumter next week working with SCAL, the city and county, educational institutions and several other area organizations to conduct a "pedestrian audit."

Gandy is a recognized expert in community design, trail planning/design and bicycle and pedestrian advocacy. His clients include the Federal Highway Administration, National Park Service, the Grand Canyon Collaborative, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council and the National Center for Bicycling and Walking. He has organized and launched citizen-based advocacy groups for walking and cycling in 30 states and metropolitan areas. Since he founded Livable Communities, Gandy has worked in all 50 states and has been interviewed and quoted in publications including the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times.

Also a past member of the Texas House of Representatives, Gandy passed bills to improve public safety and was a leader of education reform.

"His experience gives him a lot of expertise in government, education and (outdoor) recreation, too," Cook said.

Although many of the meetings Gandy will attend are designed for specific groups, Cook emphasized that the public is invited to participate in all of them.

On Monday, Feb. 9, he'll meet with Sumter's City/County Liaison Committee, then with representatives of the planning departments for government and transportation. He'll make a "Safe Routes to School" presentation at Alice Drive Middle School on Tuesday morning and meet later with walking and cycling advocates.

Gandy stated his purpose for the pedestrian audit is to "Generate concern about the pedestrian safety and walkability issues, channel that concern into a commitment to 'do something about it,' and structure that commitment into a realistic plan of action.

"The pedestrian audit is much more than just safety," he said. "It impacts our health, the environment, it's about 'Our Quality of Life.' ... the Audit can help to transform this awareness of the problem into a commitment to solving it."

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The only thing I remember about Sumter was a really nice park called Swan Lake Iris Gardens. I don't know much about the rest of the town, but that park seemed to have a good amount of pedestrian use.

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