Tahlequah Daily Press

October 7, 2013

Forum raises issue of community ‘walkability’

Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — With the current generation of children suffering high rates of obesity, diabetes, hypertension and other ailments attributable to a sedentary lifestyle, many parents are looking for ways to encourage their kids to be physically active.

On Thurdsay, about 50 people gathered to listen to a presentation by Dan Burden, co-founder of the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute, at the Tahlequah High School Performing Arts Center. He said that with previous generations, much exercise was incidental.

“When many of us were younger, we walked to school, walked to the park, walked everywhere,” Burden said. “Today, children are driven to school and elsewhere by their parents because of fears the parents have, or even the community has. As few as 2 percent of children walk to school today.”

Discussing methods by which children could safely walk or bike to school through effective community planning, the forum was hosted by the Healthy Nation Program of the Cherokee Nation, Tahlequah BEST Community Coalition and the Adair County Environment Health Initiative.

In 2012, the Cherokee Nation was awarded $1.3 million as a tribal awardee of the federal Community Transformation Grant program through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The nation sponsored the forum to explore possible uses for the funds.

WLCI also discussed its visits to Tahlequah and Stilwell public schools and initiatives taken by other cities to create safe walking paths. Burden identified issues in both districts, but added that Greenwood Elementary School had “the smoothest operation I’ve seen with school pick-up and drop-off - in the nation.”

Burden cited a community in Kansas in which more than half the students were riding bicycles to school after the elementary school principal set an example by riding his bike each day. Burden also spoke of examples of construction which protect pedestrians and bicyclists and encourage drivers to mind their speed.

“Paint is an inexpensive way to create safe lanes,” he said. “It can be used to create paths and crosswalks and drivers notice it.”

Burden said removing the center yellow lines on a two-lane street, and instead painting white lines a few feet from the curbs for pedestrian and bicycle traffic, keeps vehicle speeds down.

Other methods to improve the “walkability” of a street include roundabouts in place of traffic lights, mini traffic circles at residential intersections, medians to divide the distance pedestrians must travel to cross a street, well-maintained sidewalks and lining streets with trees.

Narrowing a street at a crosswalk was another technique shown to increase driver attention and lower vehicle speeds.

Burden showed a slide of a crosswalk narrowing with pavement in the middle and concrete shoulders, and asked the audience to guess its width. Most answered 10 feet. He explained the width was 13 feet and could accommodate any vehicle on the street.

“But it looks narrower because of the shoulders,” he said. “So drivers slow down as they pass through it.”

Burden said he enjoyed working with the Cherokee Nation during his evaluations of Tahlequah and Stilwell.

“I have worked with more than 40 tribes throughout North America,” he said. “The pride the Cherokee Nation takes, the care it puts into its decisions is second to none.”

For more information call Cherokee Nation Healthy Nation at (918) 453-5600. Visit the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute online at walklive.org.