Los Angeles County Fitbit Interviews: Just Walk

Good sidewalk in Burbank: wide, maintained, some shade

The Safe Routes to School National Partnership continues to work with participants in Los Angeles County in a Fitbit Challenge. Community members, students, teachers, writers, parents, public agency staffers, business owners, leaders, policymakers and more are tracking their steps by wearing a small device called a Fitbit. What is a Fitbit? It is a sophisticated pedometer that tracks your levels of activity and a great tool for raising one’s awareness daily behavior. We think insights into the built environment can be gleaned from actively engaging pedestrians in Los Angeles County.

Cory Wilkerson applied to participate in the Fitbit program because he loves to walk. Cory grew up in Santa Clarita and is a Transportation Planner with the City of Burbank. He is primarily responsible for the planning and implementation of the City’s Bicycle Master Plan. Cory drafted the Bicycle Master Plan which was adopted in December 2009 and received positive reviews from elected officials as well as members of the community. The Los Angeles Section California Chapter of the APA awarded the Bicycle Master Plan a Planning Excellence Award of Merit for Best Practice in 2010. Since the adoption of the Bicycle Master Plan, Cory has successfully pursued $13-million in grant funds to implement projects and programs outlined in the Plan. Cory is a League Cycling Instructor and continues to provide expertise to Los Angeles based bicycle organizations, colleagues in other jurisdictions, and regional planning organizations.

Not so great sidewalk in Burbank: long crossing time, low visibility to fast moving cars

Cory was very interested in testing the Fitbit because his previous experiences with other pedometers had been disappointing. Last summer his workplace held a walking challenge between employees. People were very excited about the friendly competition at work, however the batteries of everyone’s pedometers died at the same time; right before the end of the challenge. Overall, Cory likes the Fitbit’s easy to use interface and design and rechargeable batteries. The device wirelessly syncs information and emails him when its battery is low, essentially Cory called it “stupid proof.”

Wearing the Fitbit educated Cory about his walking habits and impacts of his transit choices. First and foremost, walking is the easiest way for Cory to get physical activity, so his priority is to make choices that enable him to walk throughout the day. His walk to and from work, 1.8 miles or 4000 steps one-way, are the longest possible walk trips in his day. Generally, the rule of thumb is people will walk between half and one mile in between destinations. Cory feels comfortable walking 2 miles at a time and prefers walking to going to a gym.

Cory’s favorite place to walk in Los Angeles County is the bicycle path in Burbank. Cory recently shared his walking experience with one his sons. This summer, Cory’s wife dropped off his son at Cory’s office and they took the walk home together, while making pit stops along the way. Cory and his son walked through and ate dinner in downtown Burbank, which provides shade from tree canopies to pedestrians and bicyclists. It was once a closed pedestrian street similar to the 3rd street Promenade in Santa Monica. Then continuing their walk home after dinner, they stopped to play in a park and grabbed ice cream for dessert. By breaking up the 1.8 mile walk home into segments, the trip home was one of Cory’s most memorable walks home.

Problem with design: Cory witnessed near miss of this pedestrian with a car turning right

The Fitbit captured the impact of Cory’s transportation choices. When he takes public transit or his wife picks/drops him off, Cory walks less, which greatly impacts his daily steps. As a result, Cory learned the best routes for hot days, what blocks provide shade from buildings or trees, to ease the heat of summer days. At work, he is in a sedentary environment and tries to find opportunities to get away from his desk. So instead of calling or emailing his co-workers on the phone to ask a question, he will walk over to their desks. This change has steadily increased his steps and improved his professional relationships. Then during breaks, Cory will take a walk, which gets him outside and away from snacks/snacking around the office.

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