A dedicated bike lane right down 17th Street, separated from traffic by a barrier? Shutting down three blocks of Bannock Street for three hours every Wednesday and turning it into a playground?
Those are ideas similar to ones that Chicago officials have implemented with a simple goal – attacking the burgeoning obesity problem.
Colorado is continually touted as the fittest state in the country, thanks to the fact it has repeatedly had the lowest adult obesity rate in the country.
But trouble may be on the horizon – I-News at Rocky Mountain PBS reported recently that the state ranks 23rd in childhood obesity rates, and officials worry that portends a future that is very different from today.
In Chicago, public health officials are taking on a number of things that affect health.
“I think many of us know that what influences health is a lot beyond genetics and medical care,” Dr. Bechara Choucoir, Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said at this month’s Colorado Health Symposium in Keystone.
In fact, he argued, the biggest influence on an individual’s health are social circumstances – the environments we live in, the social choices we make, which are largely influenced by the world around us.
His city is taking on 12 priorities – everything from tobacco to communicable diseases.
When it comes to obesity, there have been efforts to replace vending machine snack food with more healthy choices, to increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables in neighborhoods where they are scarce, and to make changes that will encourage habits that helps people achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
Chicago has added more than 200 miles of on-street bike lanes, including 35 miles that are protected from traffic. To illustrate his point, Choucoir displayed side-by-side photos of Chicago’s Dearborn Street at the symposium, which was sponsored by the Colorado Health Foundation.
In a “before” picture, the five-lane road included one lane of parking, three lanes for general traffic, and a high-occupancy vehicle lane. In that shot, bicyclist is jockeying with a mail truck for a piece of the pavement. In the “after” photo, one lane is dedicated for bicycles, separated from the three remaining lanes of traffic by a lane dedicated to parking.
“I’m not aware of any other cities that have taken a whole lane out of their central business district and turned it into a protected bike lanes,” he said.
And then there are the “play streets” – roadways in 15 neighborhoods that are closed off for three hours or so every week and turned into temporary playgrounds. The hope is to get residents out playing games with their kids.
Colorado has its own initiatives on obesity – although to date no one has proposed radically making over downtown streets, and, as I-News recently reported, a 2011 law may have been more about style than substance.