The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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July 3, 2013

Walk (Your City) encourages citizens, visitors to use signage, bar codes to take advantage of Mount Hope’s walkability

MOUNT HOPE — In less than two weeks, the National Scout Jamboree will put Mount Hope on the map as a visitor destination. On the eve of the event, the town is creating a map of its own to encourage visitors and citizens to get out, explore, and walk its newly-paved streets.

Mount Hope is a pilot community for the innovative Walk (Your City) project, aimed at installing simple, temporary signage to promote walkability in downtown areas.

Half-dozen community volunteers gathered Tuesday on Main Street to hang 80 signs directing people to walkable destinations in town.

“Five-minute walk to billiards and hot dogs,” reads one sign, pointing toward a downtown business. “5 minute walk to trout fishing,” reads another. The Scout Museum, an ATM, The Coal Seam and Mountaineer Mart are among the many other public spaces, businesses and activities included in the signage.

Each sign includes a destination, an arrow pointing towards that destination, and the number of minutes it takes to walk there. Thinking in minutes, rather than miles, makes walking feel more doable, says the project’s originator, Matt Tomasulo.

The signs are also printed with a Quick Response (QR) bar code that users can scan with their smartphone to call up walking directions and a map of town. The scans can be tracked to research which areas are the most popular for walkers.

“It’s a very 21st century idea ... and I think that’s what we need in this state — something that intrigues the young, technological generation,” said one of the more youthful sign-hangers, Andrew Martin.

The Walk (Your City) concept originated with Tomasulo last year when he took it upon himself to hang pedestrian signs, guerrilla style, throughout downtown Raleigh, N.C. The idea was that even something as simple as cheap, temporary waymarking signage could increase quality of life and vibrancy in downtown areas.

“I wasn’t quite sure why no one was walking. It was a simple gesture, but people loved it,” said Tomasulo.

National and international press followed. Then communities began reaching out to Tomasulo in the hopes that they might create a similar project.

Tomasulo began to dream about technology that could streamline the signmaking process for such communities, an online template of sorts for quickly and easily producing a set of waymarks.

Thus, he and others launched walkyourcity.org, through the financial backing of a Kickstarter campaign. It allows citizens and municipalities a “quick, light, affordable and trackable option for providing pedestrian wayfinding.”

The signs have a 6- to 18-month life cycle. Replacing them is fairly inexpensive, compared to metal street signs.

“It takes a lot of money, authorization and time to install metal signs, so this is getting around the lethargic process of adopting simple infrastructure,” said Tomasulo.

“And because it’s temporary, you can modify, add and subtract as time goes on. It’s flexible and responsive. If there’s an event next year, we could always make another 30 signs.”

Tomasulo’s connection with Mount Hope rests on a college friend, Sarah Linden, who now works as the GIS Manager for Trinity Works, developers of the Summit Bechtel Reserve.

“With the Boy Scouts bringing a sudden influx of 50,000 visitors overnight, it presented an opportunity for community building that maybe hasn’t happened before,” she said. “If you look around Mount Hope, there’s really not a lot of wayfinding signage, so this seemed like an inclusive way to get people out to talk about Mount Hope and also engage the people who already live here.”

The obvious added benefits include a boost to local businesses, environmental-friendliness, and the health of citizens.

“For the past seven years, I’ve been working on increasing wellness in Mount Hope, whether through better food availability or opportunities for physical activity,” says Nonie Roberts, a volunteer for the project. “This is just one more of those wonderful opportunities to be out and walking.”

As the group of citizens prepared to load up and strike out on their sign-hanging mission, Tomasulo asked, “OK, who has another vehicle that can follow along?”

Turns out, nobody did — they all walked.

For more information, visit www.walkyourcity.org.

— E-mail: cmoore@register-herald.com

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