Health study recommends expanding public transit in Columbia

Tuesday, February 5, 2013 | 6:20 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — The results of a health impact assessment released Monday found that expanding public transit could improve access to health care, access to healthy foods and access to employment. But Columbia City Council members do not plan to make any immediate changes to the transit system, Third Ward Councilman Gary Kespohl said.

The assessment was performed by the Columbia/Boone County Department of Health and Human Services in a partnership with the PedNet Coalition and Central Missouri Community Action. The two organizations received a pair of grants for the assessment totaling $300,000 from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Missouri Foundation for Health in 2011.

The report recommended that the city increase the number of bus stops in populated areas and ensure new bus routes have access to parks and health care. The health assessment team also suggested the creation of an “adopt-a-bus stop” program to address safety and shelter conditions at bus stops.

The two local organizations have funding from the grants until the end of September, and will conduct a second health impact assessment on an undetermined topic, Jason Wilcox, coordinator for the assessment, said.

Sixth Ward Council Member Barbara Hoppe asked the assessment team to look at a method that would allow for expansion of the transit system. Kespohl said he is concerned about the report’s recommendation to extend the transit system’s evening hours of operation.

“I would like to see more research done on the number of possible riders,” Kespohl said. “We can run a bus until 3 a.m. and maybe pick up only one person.”

Kespohl said there are no easy answers.

“I’m all for expanding, but we have to pay for it somehow,” he said.

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