Consultants work to integrate healthy outcomes into plans to improve Highway 71B

by Jeff Della Rosa ( 733 views 

Every day, John Coleman, regional director for energy consultant Entegrity Partners, looks out his window from his office along Archibald Yell Boulevard, or U.S. Highway 71B, in Fayetteville and watches pedestrians sprint across the highway.

“It’s dangerous,” said Coleman, adding that it exemplifies how a road can limit mobility. “It divides the region in a lot of ways.” Some might take their chances, but most are likely drive their vehicles rather than attempt to cross on foot.

Coleman is chair of the Healthy Corridors committee and district council member for the Northwest Arkansas chapter of Urban Land Institute, and over the past year, the committee has focused on a 2.2-mile segment of Highway 71B in Fayetteville, between Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Sycamore Street, with the goal to improve the health of those who use the corridor. This week, the organization will welcome six experts from across the United States to develop solutions for healthy outcomes.

In spring 2017, the group received a $10,000 Healthy Corridors grant from the Urban Land Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to help achieve the goal. One of the reasons the grant was awarded for this segment was the University of Arkansas already had a lot of information on it. Along with Northwest Arkansas, the Healthy Corridors initiative includes Englewood, Colo., Philadelphia and St. Paul, Minn. Coleman said he previously participated as an outside expert for the Philadelphia initiative, and wanted to see a similar event for the initiative here.

This week, the experts will be brought up to speed on recent plans and developments in Northwest Arkansas, such as bus rapid transit, Coleman said. They also will receive a tour of the area and meet with community stakeholders in the healthcare, government and private sectors. The experts will interview nearly 50 stakeholders to determine the needs of the area, and use this and information collected from a previous report and events to develop recommendations to improve healthy outcomes for the corridor.

The experts will present their recommendations at 10:15 a.m. Friday (Feb. 23) at the Fayetteville Town Center, 15 W. Mountain. They include Emiko Atherton, director of the National Complete Streets Coalition, Smart Growth America, in Washington, D.C.; Cathy Bennett, consultant for Housing Initiative and Advisory Services, and Urban Land Institute Regional Council of Mayors in Minneapolis, Minn.; Patti Clare, senior planner for Neel-Shaffer in Louisville, Ky.; Billy Grayson, executive director for the Center for Sustainability and Economic Performance of Urban Land Institute, in Washington; Tommy Pacello, president of Memphis Medical District Collaborative in Memphis, Tenn.; and chair Melanie Smith, planning consultant and adjunct faculty for the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. They will be joined by two members of Urban Land Institute’s national organization: Sara Hammerschmidt and Reema Singh.

In summer 2017, the Northwest Arkansas chapter of the organization hired Laneshift to complete a Healthy Corridor Audit Report, showing the existing health of the corridor. The report shows demographics, such as the number of homes and apartments within a half-mile of the corridor, including 4,097 housing units, which includes 3,462 homes, and three parks. The report didn’t show the number of businesses, but listed several large employers, including the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, the Veterans Administration and governmental offices for Fayetteville and Washington County. The report also listed how many traffic lanes pedestrians would have to walk to cross Highway 71B, four to five; the speed limit range for the highway, 25-35 mph; and the number of traffic signals, nine.

In September, the organization hosted an event to receive feedback from stakeholders, including city officials, real estate agents, bankers, architects, engineers, healthcare workers and neighbors. The group hosted a guest speaker from the Urban Land Institute’s national organization, a walking tour and panel discussion.

After the event this week, the grant money will be spent, and the Healthy Corridors committee is expected to dissolve. The plan is to take the information from the initiative and implement it across other corridors throughout Northwest Arkansas, said Coleman, adding that the corridor has a lot of similar characteristics to other segments along Highway 71B.

Along with Coleman, two other members of the Northwest Arkansas Chapter are on the committee, including Keaton Smith of Iberia Bank and Jeremy Hudson of Specialized Real Estate Group. Other committee members include Allison Quinlan of Flintlock Lab, Paxton Roberts of Bike NWA, Matthew Petty of Infill Group and Fayetteville City Council, Tim Conklin of Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission, Mike Stephens and Lisa Smith, both of UAMS, Mike Anzalone of Ozark Natural Foods, Martin Swope of Legacy Bank, Mark Zweig of Zweig Group and Hunter Buwick of Anthology Real Estate.

Everyone on the committee and the Northwest Arkansas chapter of Urban Land Institute is a volunteer, and the organization has started to discuss hiring a part-time or full-time staff member, Coleman said.

Hudson, who is chairman of the organization, established it in late 2016. Its first event took place in January 2017 at The Record in downtown Bentonville.