Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Transportation for Everyone

Leaders from McDonald County Focus on Livable Streets

By Sarah Canavese

When I sat down to talk with leaders from communities working with Missouri Livable Streets communities, I suspected I would hear a lot about the healthy living benefits to passing these policies. But when I sat down to talk to Paige Behm from McDonald County, I was in for a surprise.
Behm is the health administrator for McDonald County Health Department and when we talked about why she thought there was a need for sidewalks and livable streets, she was quick with her answer.

“Poverty is a big issue here. We really don’t have public transportation… so, it makes it difficult for people who don’t have transportation,” said Behm. “What they are having to do is rely on other people to get to and from where they need to go. But if they need [a ride] or [are] relying on [others] to get to work, that is a real issue. If you don’t get to work on time, you loose your job, and that just keeps you in poverty.”

Behm’s comment was eye-opening. McDonald County sits at the far southwestern corner of the state. According to County Health Rankings 2014 data, out of the 115 counties in Missouri (including St. Louis City), McDonald ranks 97th in health outcomes. Its residents experience high rates of obesity and other chronic disease, and many are uninsured.

Likewise, nearly 26 percent of those living in McDonald County identify as having poor or fair health (CHR 2014) and according to the American Community Survey,* McDonald County has a 19.3 percent disabilities rate, Behm made it clear that allowing for others, not just motorists to use the road is very important. She talked about a man in a wheelchair she regularly sees who motivates her.

“Really, it is the man in the wheelchair who can’t cross the street safely. That is what motivates me,” she said. “It is because I see him… from time to time and he is trying to get across traffic in a wheelchair because that’s his only transportation.”

Continues Behm, “As far as [Livable Streets] benefits, there are economic benefits because people want to move to healthy communities. There are benefits for business [because] along with healthy communities comes economic growth.”

But these benefits, Behm acknowledged, can be hard to envision when communities fear that the changes could generate higher costs. “[That] is the hardest challenge,” she said, “getting people to realize that it doesn’t always cost money. They think taxes are going to go up, and that is one of the challenges is educating them [on] what the policies are. It doesn’t mean an increase in taxes.”

As part of her work in McDonald County, Behm plans to continue supporting local efforts, including the work of local betterment clubs. These betterment clubs work to help generate conversation on active design or Livable Street topics within the community and are already planning events to raise money for walking trails. “The thing about McDonald County,” she explains, “[is] that once one city does something, [people] see [and say], ‘Wow, another city has done it. We should do that.’ I think it will take one city to take that first step and the others will follow.”

To learn more about how you can get involved visit Missouri Livable Streets.

*According to the ACS there are six different disability types: hearing difficulty, vision difficulty, cognitive difficulty, ambulatory difficulty, self-care difficulty and independent living difficulty. To read each categories definition you can find them here.

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