Columbia, state leaders attend Walking School Bus, ribbon cutting

Friday, April 17, 2009 | 7:11 p.m. CDT; updated 5:21 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, April 21, 2009
From left, William Crum, 6, Taurean Knedler, 6, both kindergartners at West Boulevard Elementary School, Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Mo., and Silvia Aguila, 9, a third-grader at the school, walk through Again Street Park toward West Boulevard Elementary as part of the Walking School Bus on Friday. The Walking School Bus is a project organized by GetAbout Columbia and carried out by the City Council to promote nonmotorized transportation.

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.


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“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.


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Ray Shapiro April 18, 2009 | 8:12 p.m.

("Between 2007 and 2008, we saw a doubling of biking and walking to school and work in Columbia due to a sophisticated education campaign: GetAbout Columbia,” said Kevin Mills of Rails-to-Trails, one of the funders of the effort.")
-Yea, I got it. Having a mayor who rides a bicycle, is also very sophisticated P.R.
You can pat yourself on the back for a "sophisticated education campaign," but we also saw gas double from $2 a gallon to $4 during that same time. Also, with regards to the doubling of daily bicycle riders, I'd like to know the number currently at hand for daily adult bikers. (Exclude the under 21 year olds on this stat, please.) An increase of 35 to 70 is doubling, but does it warrant the expense?
Are these numbers seasonal?
Does walking these kids to school reduce our need for city school bus expense?
Are parents expected to walk their youngsters to and from school as well?
What an adventure it will be when we're all tramping around in really bad weather! Get on your galoshes, kiddies.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking April 19, 2009 | 5:11 a.m.

You know, ray, that it's only been in the last 60 years or so that we expect to get places without being exposed to the weather. That's why we have stuff like coats, galoshes, umbrellas, etc.

Let me know, with hard numbers, how our current system of cars and buses can be sustained in a world of declining petroleum production and increasing demand, and I'll agree with you that this (increased walking and biking) is not a good thing.


(Report Comment)
Kevin Mills April 21, 2009 | 4:52 p.m.

Mr. Shapiro asks for clarification about my claim that bicycling and walking doubled in Columbia between 2007 and 2008. According to a survey of Columbians by the St. Louis firm of Phillips and Associates, those walking to work or school increased from 6% to nearly 10%, and those bicycling to work or school at least occasionally increased from 3.4% to 8.7%. During the same period, those driving alone to work or school decreased from 77.5% to 62%.

What I said at the MKT Trail Plaza dedication about these findings was that economics (i.e., high gas prices followed by recession) was a factor in this jump, but that the increase would not have happened if Columbia had not implemented a promotional and educational campaign to help facilitate the transformation, and taken initial steps to make it safer and more convenient to choose healthy active ways to get around.

In other words, I agree that gas prices were a motivator not to drive, but to create behavior change you also need safe and practical alternatives. The MKT Trail and expanded bicycle lanes are among the facilities that gave Columbians an alternative to suffering the pain of $4 gas. I assure you that not every community experienced a doubling of walking and bicycling during that time.

In city after city, we consistently see a strong correlation between sustained investment in bicycling and walking and the share of trips taken by these modes of travel. In Portland, Oregon, for instance, bicycling has increased six-fold since the early 1990s, with double digit increases each of the last four years. Their success is a direct result of strategic investment in trails, bicycle boulevards and lanes, transit connections and educational initiatives. Columbia is well-placed to enjoy similar successes.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand April 21, 2009 | 5:28 p.m.

So 90 percent of Columbians still used motorized transportation -- mainly private vehicles -- for their commute even when gas prices were at record highs. More bike lanes, sharrows and trails aren't going to reverse that ratio because most people prefer the speed and convenience of driving, even when the price skyrockets.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro April 21, 2009 | 6:08 p.m.

Good point. While a commute to your job in St. Louis by bicycle might be longer and perceived to be more dangerous, only if technology fails to address gasoline dependent motor vehicles in a supposed "shrinking supply of fuel," seasonal pedal power will always be the last choice of the masses.

@Mr. Mills: Your clarification doesn't really answer my curiosity as you cite percentages, (and not a hard head count), from a specific survey and include school as a destination.

Trying to turn Columbia into an exclusive "touchy feel-good" city for the young and uber-healthy, using Oregon as an example, will be the death of me.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking April 21, 2009 | 8:09 p.m.

Ayn wrote:

"So 90 percent of Columbians still used motorized transportation -- mainly private vehicles -- for their commute even when gas prices were at record highs."

The real crunch will come when we get shortages. Then people will have little choice but to carpool, bike, and walk. Low oil prices now insure that shortages are coming later. We should invest now while it's still cheap to build alternative transportation infrastructure (not that I agree that much of our investment has been spent wisely).


(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro April 21, 2009 | 9:22 p.m.

How about an electric cable car running from let's say Prathersville and Rangeline South to business loop (west) then West to College then it hangs a right on College, south to Stadium where it continues to Stadium and Worley then heads west to Providence...well you get the idea.
I still think hybrid or all electric vehicles or some other technology will save us. Bicycles have their place, I think you're just putting to much stock into them. I used to feel the way you do, back in the 70's. The government never gave the likes of Ralph Nader or Mother Earth News Magazine's philosophy a shot back in those days.
We have a lot of catching up to do. Putting bikes on the top of our priorities is not the way to go, IMHO.

(Report Comment)

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