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Plan to make SF a more walkable city

SANTA FE, N.M. — They may not go as far as building a yellow brick road, but people working with Creative Santa Fe plan an experiment next month with a painted path, new signs and friendly humans to help visitors find their way between the Plaza and the Railyard.

“The votes are still out” on the color of the temporary stripe, but top contenders are yellow to an orange-red, said Cyndi Conn, executive director of Creative Santa Fe.

The idea behind the program is to make downtown Santa Fe friendlier to pedestrians, helping them discover how to find various cultural attractions on foot – along with the businesses they might pass along the way.

“They can discover more restaurants, more shops, and have a huge impact on the economy,” Conn said.

The project is a follow-up to the August appearance in Santa Fe of Jeff Speck, author of “Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time,” she said.

“He said one of the key issues, which is simple and really inexpensive, is clear signage,” Conn said.

Amy Parrish, who with her husband owns Bon Marché in the Railyard, thinks the program could be wonderful – especially if it helps draw people to her part of downtown.

“There are more activities, more stores … but it’s quiet during the week, with very few people coming in,” she said of the Railyard. “It’s imperative for us, from a business standpoint, that has to change.”

People who arrive on the Rail Runner tend to migrate to the shuttles at the north end of the Railyard, then head toward the Plaza (or their jobs in government buildings), without noticing the park and shops south of the train stop, she said. And visitors on the Plaza don’t have a clear idea of exactly where the Railyard is and how long it would take to walk there, Parrish added.

“Santa Fe is such a walkable city, but that piece (signs for pedestrians) seems to be missing,” she said.

Scheduled for a Halloween kick-off, the Walk Santa Fe project will include temporary signs pointing the way to various attractions, as well as estimated walking times to them. A QR code – a code you can scan with your mobile phone – on the signs will connect to a Google map and give detailed directions to certain destinations, Conn said.

A kick-off party will be held noon-6 p.m. Oct. 31 at Bon Marché, with street performers and food from Flying Star, she said. Participants will be offered wristbands that will give them discounts or freebies at some attractions along the path, she added.

The monthlong project also includes walking ambassadors scattered through the area – “We hope to have five to 10 a day,” Conn said – who can welcome visitors, offer advice and help them find their way.

“Every Saturday we will have different events,” she said. One example, set for Nov. 9, is a Garden to Garden Walk from the Santa Fe Botanical Garden on Museum Hill to the Railyard Park – about three miles, she estimated, with a shuttle to take people back to the start. “Someone will be talking about places of interest along the way, and maybe there’ll be a picnic lunch,” Conn said, noting that the events haven’t been finalized yet.

Feedback from business owners and others will be presented to city government to see if there’s support to make the project permanent.

“I think it’s a really creative, inexpensive approach to find a way to tap into our natural visitors,” Parrish said. “It helps them understand the proximity of the Railyard, Canyon Road, parks … . The more information a visitor can have, the faster they can get around town.”

The ease of getting around town and the friendliness of people they encounter can influence visitors’ decisions of whether to come back again, she added. “We’re looking for repeat visitors,” Parrish said.