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Sunday, June 8, 2014

Nashua aims to give more ‘power to the pedestrian’

NASHUA – In cities, signs exist mostly to help people who are traveling in cars, unless they exist to help pedestrians avoid getting hit by cars.

Nashua will get some colorful exceptions this week, designed to provide people traveling on foot some vital information, such as how much time it will take to stroll to the nearest pizza joint, and also to draw attention to a part of the city that often gets overlooked. ...

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NASHUA – In cities, signs exist mostly to help people who are traveling in cars, unless they exist to help pedestrians avoid getting hit by cars.

Nashua will get some colorful exceptions this week, designed to provide people traveling on foot some vital information, such as how much time it will take to stroll to the nearest pizza joint, and also to draw attention to a part of the city that often gets overlooked.

“We want to promote the assets that exist in the Tree Streets – a very underappreciated part of Nashua,” said James Vayo, who is spearheading the project, called Walk (Nashua).

He’s asking volunteers to show up at the Nashua Heritage Rail Trail at 3 p.m. Friday to help put the signs along six blocks of the trail, which runs parallel to West Hollis Street. They’ll gather at Ash Street and West Hollis and head west, putting up a few signs at several intersections to tell people such things as “It’s an 8-minute bike ride to great bird watching” or “It’s a 1-minute walk to a gallon of fresh milk.”

“When you’re driving in a car, you’re living a different lifestyle than someone who’s choosing to walk,” said Vayo, who is community liaison for Visualize Nashua, an organization co-sponsoring the event, and an advocate for nonmotorized traffic who usually bicycles to his office in the Hunt Building downtown.

“This shows how Nashua can accommodate people who choose to step out of the car,” he said.

The event should last about one hour, after which volunteers can go to NeighborWorks Southern New Hampshire at the Ash Street Skate Park for a cleanup event.

Walk (Nashua) is part of a national program called Walk (Your City), which wants to give “power to the pedestrian” and make cities friendlier to people on foot or bicycle.

Started as a small project in Raleigh, N.C., Walk Your City expanded after a 2013 fundraiser through the crowdfunding site Kickstarter. With Web templates for signs and advice for establishing the program in other cities, it has since shown up in cities from New Mexico to West Virginia.

Walk (Nashua) was made possible by donations from the YMCA of Greater Nashua, which covered the “few hundred dollars” needed to make the signs, Vayo said.

The 1-foot-square signs are printed on gator board, a lightweight polystyrene display board, and will be attached to light poles or other places with plastic ties. They are impermanent, but this is part of the plan, since it reduces costs and delays – it isn’t easy to get permission to put up a permanent sign downtown –
and acknowledges the changeable nature of cities.

“They’re a social experiment,” Vayo said. “The understanding is that they’ll come down at some point, but dollar for dollar, they can have a tremendous impact on how people perceive their own neighborhood and how others perceive it.”

The project, including which destinations the signs point to, grew out of a leadership conference held by NeighborWorks Southern New Hampshire, a property managing organization; the Police Athletic League; the Dalianis House for veterans on Factory Street; the YMCA; and city government.

Nashua is supporting the project as part of ongoing efforts to increase use of the 1.3-mile Heritage Rail Trail, which connects downtown to Mine Falls Park and eventually to the Nashua-to-Ayer, Mass., rail trail. It is seen as a big part of efforts to make walking and biking more viable.

For more information, visit the Facebook page for Walk (Nashua), or contact Vayo at 718-8831 or jim@visualizenashua.com.

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or dbrooks@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Brooks on Twitter (@GraniteGeek).