If you want to attend:
Be Well Barton County is holding a free public meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Great Bend Convention Center. The topic will be ways to make Great Bend’s streets and sidewalks safer for walkers, cyclists and other forms of pedestrian traffic.
Refreshments will be provided.
When Great Bend was first chartered, most people walked from point A to point B. It was the norm for home builders to install wide sidewalks and buffer strips between the walk and the road in most parts of the city.
But over time, driving has superseded walking and biking all over the country. Two groups, Be Well Barton County and the Kansas Health Foundation, have high hopes of turning this trend around. Community leaders make up the BWBC team chosen to administer a KHF grant to increase the health and wellness of residents of the county.
“Sustainable cities” and “human scale” are some of the buzzwords that city planners have been using in past decades to define the idea that cities are best when they are designed around people, not cars.
Policies that encourage a combination of active and motorized transportation are the first step. And for cities making the switch, the rewards are resulting in growth and measurable increases in community health, said Linn Hogg, a BWBC spokesperson. Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at the Great Bend Convention Center, the community is invited to come learn about a model of policies being eyed by BWBC and KHF, which could shape the way Great Bend defines itself in the future.
“Before any changes can happen, policies need to be tweaked,” Hogg said.
This is going to depend on the amount of public input received. She hopes the public will turn out in large numbers to the Wednesday meeting. The Kansas Health Foundation and Be Well Barton County will provide refreshments and door prizes for attendees.
“We want more for Great Bend,” said Janel Rose, a public health educator with the Barton County Health Department and BWBC member. “This is a chance for people to learn more, and help us create a vision for the future of our city.”
Sound policies provide a plan for a community, much like a map, that can be consulted when decisions need to be made in the future, she said. And to shape those policies, elected officials need the input of the people they serve.
“They want to know what we want, how far to go,” Rose said.
Robert Johnson, director consulting with PedNet Coalition, a Columbia, Mo., based non-profit organization that advocates for active transportation, and Darwin Hindman, Jr., a PedNet member and retired mayor of Columbia,will present examples of how they implemented policies in their city. The Kansas Health Foundation and Be Well Barton County will provide refreshments and door prizes for attendees.
The tools that could be used to transform cities into people centered places, like traffic calming, “sharrows”, better sidewalks with curb cuts, signage, and lighting are all aspects of the Complete Streets model.
“Complete Streets could improve the overall livability of the community,” Rose said. “It will make Great Bend attractive to families of all ages, have a positive impact on economic development, and transform Great Bend into a more vivid community where business and people will want to move to or locate in.”
The Complete Streets model takes the work out of creating policies from scratch, allowing instead for city and county officials to choose what goes into Great Bend’s Complete Streets plan so it fits the community. The model has been used in larger cities like Columbia, Mo., with a larger population and public transit, as well as smaller Kansas cities like Iola and Ottawa, both of which have increased the walkability and bikeability of their cities and have seen an increase in young families choosing to locate there because they like what they see, Rose said.
For Donna Krug, Barton County Extension agent and a BWBC team member, Complete Streets would be a great first step to ensuring people who walk and ride their bicycles feel safe, removing any hang-ups they may have that are keeping them and their children from using active transportation to get to school or work.
Krug and her husband routinely ride their tandem bicycle to and from work and for recreation.
“We even ride our bike to the grocery store twice a week to buy the things we need,” she said. They are part of a small but growing group of people who are choosing to drive less. Krug visits schools throughout the county to educate kids on good nutrition also, and in May, the couple will visit Great Bend schools to encourage kids to take part in a bike to school day initiative.
“We need a community that is more bike and walk friendly,” she said. Complete Streets also includes a component to encourage safe routes to school and “walking school bus” programs. Schools that have implemented these programs have seen positive changes in children that participate.
“Teachers have seen improvements in behavior and in school performance which they attribute to the exercise kids are getting before they get to class,” she said.
“By increasing activity, several chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease and some strokes could be prevented or better managed.”