Genesee Valley Greenway State Park, a 90-mile corridor that stretches from Rochester to almost the Pennsylvania border, is one of state’s largest and most scenic assets for promoting physical activity.
To reach the trail’s full potential as a health resource, trail surfaces and signage need to be upgraded, crosswalks added at road intersections and lighting provided in high-use areas.
These are a few of the more than 50 recommendations to emerge from a health impact assessment released by Common Ground Health and Genesee Transportation Council.
“Research shows that walking, biking and other physical activities offered by trails like the Greenway can help lower rates of obesity, high blood pressure, stroke and cancer — leading causes of disability and early death in our region,” said Wade Norwood, CEO of Common Ground Health. “With improvements, the Greenway can become one of our community’s best prescriptions for health. It’s just what the doctor ordered.”
GTC’s long-range plan recognizes that expanding bicycle and pedestrian networks can improve public health by promoting active lifestyles, according to James Stack, GTC executive director.
“The Genesee Valley Greenway is an asset for our region and beyond,” Stack said. “We want to help raise awareness that it is in our backyard, and gives people an opportunity to get where they are going while improving their health at the same time.”
To meet these health goals, the study recommended partnering with governments and community organizations to promote programming and events that celebrate physical activity and are inclusive of vulnerable populations; providing infrastructure connections such as new trails, sidewalks, bicycle lanes and public transit stops; developing grade/trail surface conditions compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act at all road crossings to accommodate wheelchairs and residents with disabilities; and designing environments that promote social interaction.
“Monroe County is pleased to support the recommendations of this study by undertaking a $1.2 million investment in crosswalk enhancements,” said Cheryl Dinolfo, county executive. “Our Pedestrian Safety Action Plan, which will improve signage, convenience and safety measures at 400 crosswalks countywide, will enhance the accessibility of green spaces like the Genesee Valley Greenway and lead to stronger families in our community.”
Norwood said HIAs are a new and different lens that local governments bring to decision-making, and noted that only five studies have been conducted in the state.
“They bring together data and stakeholders to think about the potential effects of a proposed policy, plan, program or project on not just the environment, but the health of a population,” he said.
The outgrowth of an 18-month process, this HIA was guided by a steering committee of representatives from city, county and state governments; University of Rochester; and Parks & Trails New York.
“There is mounting evidence that parks can improve our health, and now we have partners to help champion this open space,” said Randy Simons, spokesperson for New York State Parks. “When you’re part of an agency that’s responsible for the stewardship of the outdoors, you’re always touting the importance of recreation, exercise and exploration. It’s even better when you have multiple sources speaking to the same mission.”
The study looked at four factors that affect public health: physical activity, access and infrastructure, safety and social cohesion.
Approximately 63 percent of Monroe County’s adult population is obese or overweight. Providing opportunities along the trail for increased active participation encourages physical activity, which helps residents maintain a healthy weight.
Studies show that people with higher incomes are more likely to use walking trails than those with lower incomes. About 15 percent of Monroe County residents fall below the federal poverty level. Raising awareness and accommodating the needs of all potential users increases usage.
Personal safety concerns impact physical activity the most in women, African-Americans, Latinos and people ages 65 and older. Reducing risk of injury and providing adequate wayfinding signage and lighting helps allay those concerns.
Communities with greater levels of participation in community activities have better health outcomes than those with less engagement. Organizing hikes and other trail events bring people together and foster further interest in physical activity.
Visit bit.ly/2Mr9Ojt to view the study.