COLUMBIA — Mayor Darwin Hindman wore a suit, tie and bike helmet for his busy schedule of events on Friday, riding his bike from one health-conscious event to another and setting an example of his passion: nonmotorized transportation.
Hindman's first event of the day was with Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Mo., where they participated in the citywide program called Walking School Bus, an initiative that aims to encourage children to exercise by walking to school. Bond and Hindman walked a group of students from the corner of Pershing and Lowe streets through Again Street Park to West Boulevard Elementary School.
“Columbia’s Walking School Bus program is really exciting. Anyway you look at it, it’s good for the kids,” Hindman said. “With child obesity today, this helps them with their learning, makes them happy and starts their day off good.”
Bond agreed with Hindman that establishing positive exercise routines begins with at childhood.
“The couch is a place to rest, not a place to live. Now is the time to develop healthy habits,” Bond told the students. “If you can walk a half-mile, soon you’ll be able to comfortably do a whole mile. With the Walking School Bus program, it’ll be up to you kids to keep it going.”
About 435 kids in Columbia participate in the Walking School Bus program, said Ian Thomas, executive director of the PedNet Coalition, the organization that helped develop the program. The Walking School Bus program coordinator Maggie Tonnies said 11 elementary schools participate for 10 weeks in both the fall and the spring.
“We’re very excited to see the growth (of the Walking School Bus program), largely due to the amount of volunteers we have,” Tonnies said about the volunteers who walk the children to their schools.
After the Walking School Bus students entered class, Hindman and Bond spoke to another group of students in front of the school’s Nature Explore Area that is being developed into an outdoor classroom, West Boulevard Principal Peter Stiepleman said. Bond and Hindman addressed health and ways the children could lead active lives.
Hindman then rode his bike from Again Street Park almost two miles to the MKT Trail Plaza at the intersection of Providence and Stewart roads where he rejoined Bond and met organization representatives involved in the MKT Trail for the Healthy Kids, Healthy Columbia celebration and GetAbout Columbia ribbon cutting and plaque dedication.
The ribbon cutting was held to celebrate the newly created plaza. A fountain, bike rack, benches and improved landscaping were all added where previously a simple gravel trail and paths converged. The improvements were funded by the federal government through the Non-Motorized Transportation Pilot Program. GetAbout Columbia and the PedNet Coalition helped with the funding and are dedicated to making Columbia a more accessible and safer place for pedestrians, wheelchair users and cyclists, according to the coalition.
“The city is continuing to improve the trails, intersections and sidewalks. This project promotes a much more sustainable way of getting around,” Thomas said. “This is the transition from being an automobile-centered community to a more mobile one. We are a connected community.”
The intersection at the MKT Trail Plaza receives the most pedestrian and bicycle traffic in Columbia, Hindman said.
The building of the plaza has been a huge community effort, said Hindman, referring to the many organizations involved, one of which was Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.
"Between 2007 and 2008, we saw a doubling of biking and walking to school and work in Columbia, largely due to a sophisticated education campaign: GetAbout Columbia,” said Kevin Mills of Rails-to-Trails, a partner in the effort.
GetAbout Columbia helped create bike lanes, transit connections and the new plaza to make a seamless network of trails in Missouri, Mills said.