Safe, healthy mobility is goal Resolution seeks to create connecting bike paths and walkways

By Lynn R. Parks

A resolution asking the Delaware Department of Transportation to work toward creating bike paths and walkways that connect towns and communities is headed to Gov. Markell's desk for his signature. The state Senate passed the resolution May 10 and the House passed it on May 12. The resolution, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Robert Venables, a dedicated bicyclist, and in the House by Rep. Dave Wilson, directs DelDOT to work with counties and municipalities, as well as with other state organizations, to plan and find funding for networks of walkways and bikeways "with special focus on connecting centers of population with workplaces, schools, residents, business, recreation areas and other community activity centers." The purpose of such a network, the resolution says, is to "provide safe, convenient, cost-effective and healthy mobility via walking and bicycling."

The paths are to be located on "independent rights-of-way outside of the rights-of-way of existing roadways," the resolution says. In addition, the department of transportation is to find funding for the paths that is separate from funding for road projects. It is required to report annually to the state's Bond Committee on its progress.

The resolution was supported by Bike Delaware, a biking advocacy group, and Nemours Health and Prevention Services, which promotes healthy living, especially for children. Such paths encourage physical activity, Nemours says. In particular, research shows that children who can walk or bike from home to school and back are more physically active overall, a major step in combating childhood obesity.

"This is a significant step forward," said John Hollis, Sussex County manager of community and government affairs for Nemours Health and Prevention Services. "This will give us a platform for population change."

According to Nemours, obesity among children who are 6 to 11-years-old has quadrupled in the last 40 years. In Delaware, 37 percent of our children are overweight or obese.

Children who are obese are more likely to become adults with diabetes and heart disease. A child is obese when his weight is 20 percent more than it should be.

Children in Delaware spend an average of four minutes a day in an outdoor activity, Hollis said. In contrast, they spend about 43 hours a week sitting in front of a screen, either television or computer.

Up to 60 percent of our young teenagers, age 13 and 14, could not pass physical tests required for enlistment in the military service, he added.

"Many legislators agree this [resolution] provides a basis for progressive change in Delaware that will create an environment where walkability and bikeability become a priority," Hollis said. It promises to be the start of a "societal change that embraces active living," he added.

Hollis particularly praised the resolution's demand that DelDOT provide annual reports to the Bond Committee. That requirement "will be a key sustaining factor" of the pathways program, he said.

Representatives with Bike Delaware had similar praise. For the first time, the advocacy group said, "DelDOT has legislative direction to invest directly in closing the most difficult, and often dangerous, gaps that discourage people from choosing walking or bicycling for their routine travel needs."

In addition to health benefits, the group said, good biking and walking paths can provide economic help to families struggling to pay for gasoline and automobile upkeep. "Such flexibility will only become more important if fuel prices rise further," it said.

The paths can also encourage tourism and economic development, the group added. In addition to drawing more people to the state's beaches, they can "also bring tourists into the countryside to enjoy parts of Delaware they would not otherwise visit."

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