Bike, Walk, and Wheel: A Way of Life in Columbia

Columbia, Missouri
Source: Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC)

The City of Colombia, Missouri, a college town of approximately 90,000 people, recognized a need to address chronic illness in their city due to sedentary lifestyles.

There was a recognized prevalence of sedentary life styles n one neighborhood adjacent to downtown Columbia that included a wide range of income levels. Most children in this neighborhood drive or are driven to school each day, despite the fact that the majority of them lived within one mile of school. A not-for-profit volunteer partnership -- The PedNet Coalition -- formed to address this issue. The Group incorporates representatives from the Early Childhood Obesity Task Force, the City Mayor, five City government departments, local and state public health agencies, an active citizens' advocacy group, two university Deans, five public schools, a neighborhood community center, the Safe Routes to School Task Force, and the Safe Kids Coalition.

The partnership is based on three main objectives: to increase walking and biking to school rates, to introduce physical activity as a lifestyle habit for all school children, and to promote physical activity among families and communities. Approximately 800 children in the neighborhood live less than one mile from the school they attend. The majority is not eligible for bus service and is driven to school. The local elementary school principals estimated that not more than 30% of these 800 children ever walked to school. The partnership planned several projects to address this issue, including:

  • The formation of a "Walking School Bus," whereby teams of elementary students, led by a group of parents and mentors, would be supplied with reflective vests, wagons to carry backpacks, and punch cards to record the number of times each child walks to school.
  • The extension of the Self-Challenge program from only adults to children as well, so that they may accumulate minutes of physical activity through walking to school, P.E. classes, and a variety of community-based activities. Initial infrastructure was planned to occur through these volunteer activities incorporated into the youth Self-Challenge program, including trash clean-ups, street landscaping efforts, and marking neighborhood "walking routes."
  • To help combat the real and perceived barriers to walking identified in a community survey, such as traffic accidents and crime, the Department of Public Works and the Police Department are intended to contribute through traffic calming measures like the installation of signage, speed bumps, sidewalks, and safer traffic flow patterns.
  • Social marketing techniques were planned to deliver messages promoting physical activity, and to educate about the benefits of an active lifestyle and the dangers of an inactive one. The PedNet website and email newsletter would be used to promote programs and build support for the project.

As of the end of the planning stages in 2003, no funds had been spent and all hours contributed were volunteered. The expected budget for the first year of programs is expected to be $60,000.

With a strong coalition of dedicated professionals and volunteers, it is anticipated that the project will result in lower rates of obesity and related chronic disease. Once the program is successfully implemented in the current target neighborhood, it will be expanded to additional areas.

The PedNet Coalition of Columbia, MO

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