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Informing Policy. Advancing Health.

Colorado Picking Up Speed on Active Transit

April 27, 2016

Spring has sprung in Colorado (except, of course, for the occasional pesky snowstorm). Streets near CHI’s downtown Denver office are starting to be jammed with bike commuters and walkers.

In wonky policy terms, this means that many Coloradans are opting for active transit — choosing to get around in a way that pumps up their heart rate rather than sitting in a vehicle. This doesn’t surprise us, since Coloradans are known for being physically active. In fact, Colorado adults rank second in the nation for physical activity.

A new report card from the Safe Routes to School National Partnership explores state policies that encourage physical activity. Where do we stand? Colorado is among the top four states for adopting policies that, as the report card puts it, support walking, bicycling, active kids and active communities.

The rankings are based on 24 indicators in four categories that reflect a state’s commitment to policies that promote physical activity. The highest possible total is 200 points.

Colorado tied for fourth with New Jersey at 140 points. California leads the list with 161 points, followed by Washington at 158 points and Minnesota at 152 points.

 Colorado earned a perfect 10 on several indicators, including:

  • Complete Streets Policies: These require local and state officials to consider walker and biker convenience and safety when designing and building roads.
  • Access to Parks: Nearly 59 percent of Coloradans live within a half mile of a park. Studies show that people who live closer to parks are more likely to visit them and be more physically active than those who live farther away.
  • A Governor’s Council on Physical Activity: Colorado has a Governor’s Council for Active and Healthy Lifestyles, which works collaboratively to spread awareness of the importance of being active and to promote and support events and programs that encourage physical fitness.

But the report found that Colorado has room for improvement on several measures, including:  

  • Active Transportation Funding: Colorado transfers between 10 percent and 40 percent of the federal funding it receives from the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) to other initiatives, leaving fewer dollars for building active transportation infrastructure and conducting Safe Routes to School programming.
  • State Policy Supporting Shared Use of School Facilities: Colorado has adopted a policy recommending that schools allow access to their facilities outside of traditional hours for recreation. However, other states have gone beyond “recommending” to requiring that schools and districts allow communities and organizations to have after-hours access.
  • State Physical Activity Plan: Unlike California and Washington, two of the top three states, Colorado has not adopted an official state physical activity plan.

The good news is that several important initiatives to promote physical activity are underway that aren’t captured by the data indicators.

Governor John Hickenlooper has pledged $100 million to make Colorado the best state to ride a bike, a program that has been approved by the state’s Transportation Commission. This initiative includes $2.5 million annually for Safe Routes to School, which aims to create safe and fun opportunities for students to walk or bike to school, among other activities to improve bike safety and infrastructure.

And public health is playing its part. Of the state’s 54 local public health agencies, 43 have identified healthy eating and active living or obesity prevention as a priority. Public health leaders are working within their communities on Safe Routes to School programs, restoring parks, installing sidewalks and other initiatives to get Coloradans moving