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FOR many in Columbus, the Reach Healthy Communities project is viewed as a tool to encourage residents to adopt or continue lifestyles centered on exercise and proper diets.
It is a massive undertaking that was launched in 2010 with the help of a $2.2 million federal grant intended to assist the community in instituting meaningful programs that reduce obesity rates.
Many of the programs that were begun locally were obvious fits for the mission. Local schools set dietary guidelines, reducing candy in vending machines and adding more fruits and vegetables to menus. Organizations sponsored individual and team competitions intended to encourage walking, biking and other forms of exercise. Media outlets developed videos and other presentations that utilized local residents to promote various aspects of the program.
Out of this effort to promote healthier lifestyles, other benefits have emerged — some more directly related to issues such as public safety and infrastructure improvements.
One of these benefits was outlined in a story in The Republic this week about the effects of the installation of a lighted crosswalk in the school zone around Central Avenue and Parkside Drive.
The crosswalk improvements were undertaken as a direct result of concerns raised over the past few years by families of school-age children and neighbors in the area. Those complaints focused on unsafe conditions created by high speeds in the area and the failure of many motorists to heed crosswalk warnings, even when crossing guards were present.
City officials lowered speed limits in the area and installed a system of strobe lights that served as a warning to drivers that people were about to cross the street.
Although evidence to date is mostly anecdotal, the reaction of crossing guards, students and parents has been extremely positive, with many noting a palpable feeling of safety when crossing the street under the new system.
The effect has been so positive that the city plans to use a $487,500 federal highway grant to install the strobe light system at five other locations next year.
While the crosswalk project is principally a matter of public safety, it originally fell under the umbrella of the Safe Routes to School project. A sub-group of Reach Healthy Communities, the Safe Routes program was intended to encourage biking and walking while at the same time ensuring that those healthy activities are safe.
That is a wide-ranging goal and one that requires the commitment of a number of agencies and organizations in changing not only mindsets but also institutional infrastructures.
The city of Columbus has been an active partner in the undertaking, especially in the development of the People Trail system and the institution of bike paths along public roadways.
Increasing confidence about the safety of children walking to school by acting on the crosswalk situation is an outcome with multiple results.
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