Monday, April 19, 2004

Erlanger aims to be exercise friendly



By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

ERLANGER - Busy lifestyles, reliance on fast food, and a dependence on cars have turned the U.S. into a nation of overweight, out-of-shape people.

The federal Centers for Disease Control recently reported that obesity will soon overtake tobacco as the No. 1 cause of preventable death in the United States. A Kentucky Medical Association study has projected that the Bluegrass state will lead the nation in obesity by 2010.

So one Northern Kentucky community is encouraging residents to adopt a more active lifestyle through a program called Step Forward.

"That wave of obesity that's sweeping through the country affects families right here in Erlanger every day,'' said Erlanger Administrator Bill Scheyer of the Kenton County suburb of 16,676. "One of the goals of our program is to look for ways to make it safer and more convenient for residents to get out and walk. We want to make our program a national model that cities across America can replicate.''

Next week, Erlanger will be one of eight Tristate communities hosting workshops that explore ways to make communities more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly. Trainers from the National Center for Bicycling & Walking in Washington, D.C., will bring together everyone from planners to health officials to tackle "walkability.''

Participants will walk a one-mile radius around the Erlanger city building and high school/middle school complex to identify barriers to walking and discuss solutions. Walkable Community Workshops also are scheduled next week in Independence and Florence.

"We'll be looking at 'Where is it easy to walk? Where is it not so easy to walk? What can we do to extend some sidewalks and make it easier to walk more places?''' Scheyer said.

Participants will study the condition of sidewalks, whether they're wide enough and how close they are to streets with high traffic volumes, said Larissa Keith, a principal planner for the Northern Kentucky Area Planning Commission. They'll also look at whether there are enough wheelchair ramps and crosswalks and whether trash cans are readily available to pedestrians.

Just a few generations ago, U.S. children walked or rode their bikes to school and adults routinely did their shopping and other daily activities on foot.

But suburban sprawl changed all that, said Kathy Navin, director of health education and planning for the Northern Kentucky health department.

"It's the people out in suburbia who're gaining weight,'' Navin said. "They're not walking. They're driving.''

Scheyer said Erlanger officials are trying to promote fitness by building more sidewalks, designing new developments that promote physical activity, monitoring the fitness of Lloyd High School's current freshman class for four years, starting a wellness program for city employees and expanding a city-sponsored walking club.

The Erlanger Walking Club will match people with walking buddies from the same part of town who walk at a similar speed, said Kathy Cahill, who coordinates Erlanger's parks and recreation programs. The club will meet monthly so that walkers can assess their progress and share tips on the best places to walk.

Erlanger also is looking at trying to design developments that promote physical activity. Erlanger Center, a proposed development near Showcase Cinemas, would include retail, commercial, office and living quarters as well as green space and walkways.

As part of a long-range plan, Scheyer has explored linking Erlanger Center with Doe Run Park seven miles away at the opposite end of the city.

"We want to change the community culture to one that encourages a healthy lifestyle,'' he said.

Northern Kentucky Walkable Community Workshops

Florence municipal building, 8100 Ewing Blvd.

When: 8 a.m. to noon Tuesday

Issue: Mall Road corridor mixed-use urban neighborhood redevelopment plan and Florence Pedestrian and Bike Plan

Contact: Greg Clift, City of Florence, (859) 647-5416

Independence Fire Department, 1980 Delaware Crossing

When: 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday

Issue: Evaluation of sidewalk system and walking times in new Independence business district

Contact: Larissa Keith, principal planner at Northern Kentucky Area Planning Commission, (859) 331-8980

Erlanger City building, 505 Commonwealth Ave.

When: 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday

Issue: Step Forward, Erlanger program promoting active living and community walkability. Focus will be on the city building and middle/high school complex.

Contact: Julie Sparks, senior health educator with the Northern Kentucky Area Health District, (859) 363-2080

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E-mail cschroeder@enquirer.com




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