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All Points West: Activiate! summit needs your ideas
November 25, 2016 Frank Marquez   

Read more by Frank Marquez
Activate Scottsbluff-Gering! is an attempt to get residents on the path, literally, to health and well-being, in response to the inactivity that modern living has brought us. We sit, we eat, we sit some more through some of the most sedentary jobs ever created. All you need to do is people watch on a Saturday afternoon at the Monument Mall and realize we all, myself included, need to make time for a walk or bicycle ride three or four times a week, or within reason.

Last week, on Nov. 17, Thursday, several organizers of the summit, representatives of local government and businesses, and private citizens such as myself, attended a planning summit at the Guadalupe Center in southeast Scottsbluff, reportedly one of 10 held in the state this past year. Roughly 30 or so of us sat in working groups after listening to five panelists share information about ideas to motivate people to get off their couches or out of office chairs to get moving again.

The discussions, led by Annie Folck, a planning coordinator for the City of Scottsbluff; Paul Snarr, a city engineer for the City of Gering; Angela Kembel, owner of Cappuccino and Company on Broadway in Scottsbluff; Daniel Bennett, a regional planner at the Panhandle Area Development District; and Julie Harris, the executive director for the Nebraska Bicycling Alliance, centered around pathways, which include plans and construction for extending existing thoroughfares friendly to walkers and cyclists, and what determines the choice to walk, run, or both (“wog”), and to bicycle, to make them actionable items, and I’ll add, obtainable goals.

In other words, if the Twin Cities decided in a cooperative effort to connect the communities by building a green belt that crossed the North Platte River, would you use it? Would you like to have another way, other than your car, to get to work, local shops, and local events or activities?

Your city planners, in order to make the city what you want it to be, devise master plans, “which can play a significant role in reducing health disparities by ridding neighborhoods of toxins and improving access to quality employment and education, affordable housing, healthy food, public transit options, and safe spaces for social interaction,” according Jason Corburn, PhD, MCP, in an article titled “Toward the Healthy City.” The quote was reproduced on one of the several handouts at the summit.

A master plan is required by state law to make a study of and respond to areas of the environment; urban development; land use; transportation; parks and recreation; energy; and housing and community development. Of note, Gering’s master plan has not been updated since 1995. Obviously, we are behind the times.

Panelists and attendees floated ideas for the widest possible pathways; disseminating information about rules and ordinances; sprucing up and improving facilities such as bicycle racks; and identifying other areas where pathways might be installed. As someone who grew up in Gering during the 1970s, I can say that not a lot has changed with regard to how we get around, and I can easily compare it to cities where I have lived over the past 30 years. At the meeting, I brought up how a green belt works for Boise, Idaho, where residents have several options to travel from one end of the city to the other in relative safety, without being impeded by motor vehicles. I also worked in Washington, D.C., and was glad to see a network of paths that allowed me to ride my bike to work, travelling from my home in Alexandria, Virginia, to downtown D.C., roughly 15 miles. Because of clogged traffic, commuters need this kind of choice. It also cuts down on emissions, which is in line with what’s required in our master plans. Yet, first and foremost is getting back to health.

Keep in mind, building paths and trails may seem simple, but must still contend with a sometimes bureaucratic process of holding these types of meetings, working through environmental impact studies with our city planners and engineers, and of course, costs. Brighter people than me, and who are much better at math, must determine the price tag on labor and materials, and the time of experts, which can be covered with matching grants or other funding.

What’s your role? In order for the process to work, concerned groups in and outside of government, and the progress of other doers, need your input. Unless you speak up to contribute your ideas and opinions, the result of a plan may end up being something less than ideal for all concerned residents, but what I really mean is all of us living in Scottsbluff and Gering. In our country, obesity is epidemic, and it doesn’t take a scientist or health expert to tell most of you, our inactivity leads to a plethora of maladies that block us from leading healthy and HAPPY lifestyles. Participating in the planning is of vital concern to you, your children and future generations.

As a quasi-member, and big supporter of the Western Nebraska Bicycling Club, I’d like to see more options, in as many, if not more than the bigger cities where I have lived over the past 30 years.

For more information, reach out to the folks named in this column, especially your city planners, and keep your eyes and ears open for future meetings.
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