East Central Wisconsin
Why they stand out
Wisconsin’s East Central Regional Planning Commission (East Central; 10 County Region) provides a model approach for regional action on active, healthy communities. Their success across a 10-county region stems from strong partnerships with local governments and community organizations. Their nationally-touted regional Safe Routes to School (SRTS) Program makes it safer for kids to walk and bike to school. It began in 2009 with 40 schools, and now reaches 184 schools across 35 school districts and 8 counties. East Central staff make it easy for schools to participate. Many are hopping on the ‘walking school bus’ trend - a sustainable program that more schools are adding in addition to typical events and educational activities. Schools also address policy through district-wide action plans. In Kaukauna, for example, East Central worked with city and school district partners, helping schools develop SRTS plans that codified features such as bike/walk audit maps and parent pick-up procedure maps. One school even reconstructed its parking lot to improve traffic safety patterns. East Central enjoys broad support for SRTS, because the topics of children and safety resonate across communities.
Success on SRTS has allowed East Central to spearhead other active communities initiatives. For example, their regional wayfinding signage program will create regional consistency for bicycle and pedestrian facility signage, making the network easier to navigate. To help local governments implement the signs, East Central worked with a consultant to create the East Central Trails Wayfinding Guidebook. Additionally, in 2018 East Central became the first Regional Planning Commission in the state to adopt a regional Complete Streets Policy. It provides the framework for municipalities to shape their own policies, and outlines requirements for any federally funded projects that are allocated through East Central. Additionally, a regional wellness coalition, Weight of the Fox Valley, has partnered on both the wayfinding and Complete Streets efforts by identifying potential funding opportunities to support wayfinding and in creating support for local communities to adopt their own Complete Streets policies.
As the organization that helps communities create and update planning documents like bicycle and pedestrian plans, comprehensive plans and outdoor recreation plans, East Central consistently looks for opportunities to prioritize health when planning for the region’s future, even establishing an internal Health in Planning team to follow through on that goal. Beyond their internal work, East Central works with local partners to collaborate on projects and to ensure a variety of perspectives are represented. Residents of the region benefit from their tireless efforts to create more active places, and Wisconsin is lucky to have their leadership as a strong example for other regions! Keep leading the way, East Central!
Approach to Equity
East Central actively seeks trainings and educational opportunities to learn and grow equity practices into all aspects of their work. One recent outcome involved enhancements to their environmental justice processes and policy documents (e.g., transportation improvement plans, safe routes to school plans), notably integrating mapping technology to better visualize inequities and prioritize resource distribution to areas of greatest need and impact. Another example includes prioritization of a complete streets design along Appleton’s College Avenue corridor, because it lacks transit stops or safe ways to walk and bike. An upcoming reconstruction provides an opportunity to connect a free health clinic on the west end with low income housing four miles to the east. East Central also created an Equity and Opportunity work team, which works across its departments to ensure transparency and fairness of the agency’s work to all members of the public.
East Central serves many rural communities, and recognizes that not everyone can walk and bike to their destination. The Regional SRTS Program, for example, implements strategies such as walking challenges or safe drop-off points in rural communities. The SRTS program works to expand equitable reach in other ways as well, such as translating materials from English to Spanish to reach a larger demographic across the region.
East Central also works collaboratively with other local agencies as part of the Fox Valley Thrives Alliance to address the conditions that create health. Fox Valley Thrives is a regional alliance advancing health equity through relationship and capacity building, co-learning, and strategic action. The group is comprised of a core team that leads the direction and initiatives and a transportation workgroup. The transportation workgroup has been working to engage transit users, pedestrians, and bicyclists to identify factors that impact their transportation journeys.