Exercise Your Right to…Exercise

kelechiThe past several months have been rife with debates, campaign speeches and rallies supporting certain candidates, ideologies and policies. Over the past couple of weeks, many Americans have exercised their right to vote into office the state and local leaders of their choice as well as the President of the United States of America. Although the 2012 elections are over, consider the calm after this political storm short-lived. As Safe Routes to School supporters, there is still work to be done.

Throughout this great nation, there are communities where children still cannot safely walk or bicycle to school. There are still glaring disparities across socioeconomic lines. And children today still are not as physically active as earlier generations. But just as we turned out to vote for our future leaders, let us exercise our right to vote for safe, multi-modal, socially-connected communities. Studies indicate that people-powered movements get the job done. Below are just three of many such examples.

  1. In a 2011 study, Heinrich, Hansen-Smith, Fenton, and Maddock examined Hawaii’s multilevel approach for passing both Safe Routes to School and Complete Streets policies. This statewide, 22-month initiative involved an array of stakeholders, including legislators, community champions and a private contractor, and an assortment of activities, including educational campaigns, planning sessions and legislative hearings. This multilevel approach led to the successful passage of legislation supporting transportation.
  2. In a 2012 study, Heath and his colleagues identified several effective, promising or emerging physical activity interventions from around the world. They found that community-wide campaigns and mass media campaigns were successful in promoting health and encouraging physical activity. They also had the greatest reach, but only when people and organizations from multiple sectors worked together for the common purpose of public health. The authors emphasized that to increase physical activity, public health agencies especially need to form partnerships with several community organizations, such as, schools, businesses, and policy, advocacy, nutrition, recreation, planning and transport agencies.
  3. An Active Living by Design project based in Seattle advocated for policies and projects in diverse communities supporting a more walkable city, while using social marketing and education to get more people walking more often. Examining this project, Deehr & Shumann’s 2009 article found that Active Seattle was able to make recommendations for policy change and built-environment improvements because it ran highly visible educational campaigns. The organization was also able to advocate for city-scale policies. As a result of Active Seattle’s efforts, the city experienced an increase in funding for pedestrian infrastructure, a pedestrian master plan, a Complete Streets policy, substantial increase in Safe Routes to School activity and institutionalization of active living and active transportation within partner agencies. The authors concluded that efforts to overcome funding inequities or other resistance to pedestrian-oriented physical projects benefit from high-visibility campaigns that influence and educate local government officials to make active living projects and policies a high budgetary priority is essential for large-scale impact and long-term change.