Douglas County making strides to increase walkability
- on January 14, 2014
By Chris Tilden/Community Health director
A common New Year’s resolution is to get more exercise. That should be a little easier in Douglas County in 2014 thanks to recent and ongoing efforts to increase and improve the trail and sidewalk system in the county.
Research shows that where one lives has a substantial impact on physical activity. People who live closer to recreational amenities like parks and trails are likely to have higher rates of physical activity than those who do not. Therefore, a key objective in the community health plan, “Roadmap to a Healthier Douglas County,” is to ensure more sidewalk and trail systems in the county.
Local efforts already are underway to make this plan become a reality. In 2013 substantial progress was made, including:
1. Sunflower Foundation funding for four trail projects in Douglas County. They were:
• A community trail grant to Baldwin City of up to $55,000 to connect two community parks with a half-mile long paved trail.
• A community trail grant to Eudora, also up to $55,000, to develop a half-mile long paved trail winding along Church Street and passing by Eudora’s middle and senior high schools. This trail officially opened in October.
• A schools trail grant to Eudora Elementary School and USD 491 of up to $25,000 to develop a paved trail on the south side of the elementary school to create better neighborhood connections.
• A community trail grant of up to $55,000 to Outside for a Better Inside, Inc. to construct a half-mile long paved trail in the proposed Sandra J. Shaw Community Health Park in the Pinckney neighborhood. The City of Lawrence has tentatively agreed to take ownership of the land from Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, the owner of the property, after the trail is completed in the spring. Outside for a Better Inside announced today they have secured the required matching funds to build the trail.
2. Substantial new sidewalk development to fill “gaps” in the existing sidewalk network, including:
• 23rd Street, where over 600 feet of sidewalk was installed in places where there previously had been no sidewalk.
• Bob Billings Parkway where a wide “shared-use path” was constructed on the south side of the roadway between Kasold Drive and Iowa Street during summer construction.
• Improvements on the northwest corner of 14th and Tennessee streets, including enhanced ADA-compliant ramps, that is part of a substantial pedestrian corridor between the KU campus and downtown area.
• Late in 2013 City Commissioners directed city staff to meet with the Lawrence Pedestrian Coalition to explore new ways the city can better address needed improvements in the sidewalk infrastructure.
3. The emergence of new coalitions and partnerships dedicated to enhancement of trail/sidewalk systems including:
• The Lawrence Pedestrian Coalition, which grew out of the former sidewalk task force. It meets the second Wednesday of every month at 7 p.m. in the basement conference room of the Carnegie Building at 200 W. Ninth St. (the January meeting, however, is on Jan. 15). Anyone who is interested is invited to attend.
• The LiveWell Lawrence coalition’s new “Healthy Built Environment” work group. The work group’s top priorities include enhancing trail and network systems. The work group has initially focused on expansion of the Burroughs Creek Trail and promoting the development of a Safe Routes to School Plan in Lawrence. More information is available on the LiveWell website at livewelllawrence.org.
• The Multi-Modal Study committees convened by the Lawrence-Douglas County Metropolitan Planning Organization. These committees were tasked with providing input to three study projects, including development of a countywide bikeway system plan. More information is available at lawrenceks.org/mpo.
• The Lawrence Cultural District Task Force. The Task Force’s 2013 final report included a recommendation to enhance the biking/pedestrian infrastructure between downtown and east Lawrence, including a Ninth Street “Complete Streets” corridor, an extended Burroughs Creek Trail, and “improved sidewalks” throughout the cultural district. The final report is available online at https://www.lawrenceks.org/boards/cultural-district-task-force.
Many experts believe that the one thing that has the biggest impact on health is getting recommended levels of physical activity. Walking has been shown to:
• reduce pain and disability in patients with arthritis of the knee,
• reduce progression of dementia and Alzheimer’s in older patients,
• reduce progression of pre-diabetes and diabetes,
• reduce the risk of hip fracture in postmenopausal women,
• reduce anxiety, and
• improve symptoms of patients diagnosed with depression
Experts recommend 30 minutes of aerobic activity at least five times a week for adults and an hour daily for kids, and data suggest we are falling short of those targets. In 2011, over one-third of Douglas County adults did not perform enough physical activity to meet either aerobic or strengthening guidelines (data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey). State data for children from 2011 show that over two-thirds of surveyed high school students in Kansas were not physically active at least 60 minutes a day each day of the week (data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey).
With the new trails and sidewalks, we hope residents are finding it a little easier and safer to achieve recommended levels of activity.