A Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky partners with coalition to promote policy changes
LOUISVILLE (June 22, 2017) — It’s hard to enjoy outdoor exercise by taking a walk or riding a bicycle when area roadways are narrow or poorly lit and not maintained. A Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky partnership with the Fitness for Life Around Grant County (FFLAG) coalition is helping make streets in four cities and in the county safer for all users.
These communities have adopted “Complete Streets” policies that ensure future projects will be planned and designed from the start for pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities.
The Foundation initiative, Investing in Kentucky’s Future (IKF), provided matching grants and training to seven multi-sector community health coalitions across the Commonwealth to address children’s health issues. Part of each coalition’s work must focus on supporting policies that are proven to lead to healthier lifestyles for children. FFLAG selected childhood obesity prevention as the issue they would seek to address under the Foundation grant, and Complete Streets Policies are one of several measures they have advocated.
“Complete Streets laws are examples of pro-health policies that local communities can enact to encourage active living and increase roadway safety for everyone; these kinds of policies make the healthier choice an easier, more viable option for the entire community,” said Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the Foundation. “People are more likely to forgo their cars when they have convenient, well-lit and well-maintained sidewalks, walking paths and bicycling lanes. And one of the best arguments for complete streets laws is they don’t require a large up-front appropriation, because they guide future planning efforts and maintenance priorities.”
Crittenden was the most recent city to pass a Complete Streets Policy, and Grant County was the first in Kentucky to enact a county-wide policy. FFLAG also assisted these communities, as well as Williamstown, Corinth, and Dry Ridge; the Northern Kentucky cities of Taylor Mill and Independence also have passed such policies.
“The Foundation grant requirements, training and other support for changing systems and policy really spurred us to look at how we could improve walkability in our communities,” said Elizabeth Steffer, a health educator with the Northern Kentucky Health Department, which is a member of the FFLAG coalition. “These new policies will lead to behavior changes that will long outlive the grant.”
Youth engagement also was strongly encouraged by the Foundation’s IKF grants. In Crittenden, FFLAG worked with Grant County High School and the Step It Up Kentucky! campaign, which promotes walking and walkable communities. With Steffer’s assistance, eight students did a walkability assessment of Crittenden, looking at a variety of factors including the condition of sidewalks and shoulders, evidence such as dirt paths that residents were walking from place to place, intersection safety, driver behavior, and lighting; they also noted various destinations and points of interest along their assessment routes that residents might want to walk to and between. The students then compiled their observations and photographs into a presentation to the Crittenden City Council in May, asking members to adopt a Complete Streets Policy. The council adopted the policy on June 6.
“The students told Council members that they had the power to make Crittenden healthier, and their presentation made all the difference in getting the ordinance passed,” Steffer said.
“It was important to the students that they could take control of this project to make a difference in their community,” said Tyler Mullins, director, Grant County High School Youth Services Center. “It gave them a sense of pride and ownership.”
Grant County High School student Blake White said his work on the project was meaningful because it would help ensure the safety of his younger brother, who loves to ride his bike around the community.
Kentucky ranks 45th among the 50 states for adult obesity, and 40th of 43 reporting states for high school youth obesity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC recommends 150 minutes of physical activity each week, 60 minutes a day for children. When asked, however, nearly a third of Kentucky adults report they hadn’t participated in any exercise in the prior 30 days, the CDC found.
A 2017 Kentucky Health Issues Poll report found that one in four Kentucky adults rated their neighborhoods only a fair or poor as a place to walk, jog or bike. Two in 10 said their neighborhood was either somewhat unsafe or not at all safe for exercise
“In addition to encouraging physical activity, enhancing community walkability attracts business investment and increases small business revenue,” Chandler said.
There are lots of ways to incorporate walkability into street design and maintenance, and complete streets in rural areas do not necessarily look like those in urban areas. The goal is to balance safety and convenience for everyone using the road, according to Smart Growth America, which has a website with model Complete Streets policies.