Active Design Needs Active Communities, Part II: Pierce County

This post is the second in a two-part series highlighting two exceptional Plan4Health projects: one in Sacramento, California, and one in Pierce County, Washington. These communities may be more than 700 miles apart, but they are united in the shared goal of building healthy communities through principles of active design. Each project has unlocked the secret to successful planning for public health: civic engagement.


The population of Pierce County, situated within the Puyallup Watershed in Western Washington, is characterized as being more diverse than the rest of the state, but with lower rates of education and lower median income.

In an area where residents have fewer transportation options, pedestrian and bicycle safety are major public health concerns. Washington State ranks 36th nationally on the Pedestrian Danger Index. Between 2013 and 2014, 16 deaths, 80 serious injuries, and hundreds of less severe accidents occurred in Pierce County alone.

The Active Transportation Community of Interest (AT COI) seeks to increase access to safe, healthy, and affordable active transportation options for people living in Pierce County. The AT COI is a coalition of local citizens and organizations interested in improving the health of the watershed’s people, environment, and economy.

Community members meeting with Tacoma City Councilmember Anders Ibsen to discuss concerns related to active transportation and transit before attending a Tacoma City Council meeting together. Photo courtesy Downtown on the Go.

The Puyallup Watershed Initiative, one of the leaders within the coalition, focuses on Active Transportation by working to collaboratively develop and maintain a system of trails, sidewalks, bike lanes, and public transport that connect the regional communities.

Projects like the Tahoma to Tacoma Trail Network and Safe Routes to School in Tacoma aim to involve locals in planning while educating policymakers, community leaders, and the public on the intersections between health, equity, and active transportation.

The success of their projects has been in large part due to their civic engagement strategies.

“You have to go where people are,” explains Jane Moore, the Puyallup Watershed Initiative’s AT COI administrative coordinator. “You can’t just hold a meeting and expect people to show up.”

One year, Moore and her team brought a map of their trail vision to the McKinley Hill Street Fair, where they asked locals about the challenges that they face with mobility in their communities.

The Puyallup Watershed Initiative’s creative engagement strategies have inspired other organizations in the AT COI coalition. “We’re passing along funding to the great work our partners are doing,” explains Hannah Miner, Puyallup Watershed Initiative’s AT COI community engagement coordinator.

The flowchart to help residents understand who to talk to about what. Photo courtesy Downtown on the Go.

One of these partners is Downtown On the Go. Its project, Speak Up for Walking, Biking, and Transit, guides citizens in approaching elected officials with the issues they care about.

“I think everyone can understand the intimidation of standing up to an elected official,” Miner says. The initiative helps community members create a cohesive narrative about their issue and provides them with flowcharts that show who to talk to, where they are, and when to approach them.

Another of these partners is Alchemy Skateboarding, a nonprofit that connects young skateboarders with opportunities to get involved in local government. The Sponsored by Alchemy Leadership Team (SALT) encourages these young community members to take ownership of public spaces they value for recreation by designing, painting, and cleaning skate parks. “They’re our natural allies,” Miner says with a laugh, “because walking, skating, and biking are really fun!”

The youth leaders are also equipped with job readiness training and skills to empower the next generation of community leaders.

“Engaging youth,” Moore explains, “is the key to the future and keeping the things we started moving forward.” 

Top image: Community members meeting with Tacoma City Councilmember and Deputy Mayor Ryan Mello to discuss concerns related to active transportation and transit before attending a Tacoma City Council meeting together. Photo courtesy Downtown On the Go.

About the Author
Samantha Schipani is APA's Great Places in America communications intern.

October 24, 2016

By Samantha Schipani