Governor John Hickenlooper used his State of the State speech to preview issues for the year ahead, including retail marijuana and the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, which will require legislators to budget for tax refunds this year for the first time in a decade.
His speech also included a commitment to public health. The governor, noting that exercising outdoors is important for both physical and emotional health, announced a new Bike Health Initiative to build a statewide recreational trail network.
Biking is already popular in Colorado. In fact, according to census estimates, Colorado ranks third in the nation for adults who commute by bike, with 32,758 adults biking to work across the state, according to the U.S. Census. Several counties post higher-than-average rates. Gunnison County has the highest bike commuting rate of the nation, with more than 10 percent of adult workers biking to work. In Denver County, about two percent of workers commute by bike.
The Bike Health Initiative coincides with legislative efforts to increase state funds for Safe Routes to School programs. The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) oversees these initiatives. Local schools and communities apply for funding for infrastructure-related projects as well as safety education initiatives.
Colorado has allocated $125 million in federal funding for 705 local Safe Routes projects since 2005, but this federal funding has expired. Advocates are pushing legislation this year for continued funding.
Promoting physical activity is an ongoing public health effort in Colorado, where more than two-thirds of kids are driven to school each day. While nearly half of all Colorado high school students said they could walk or ride a bike, scooter or skateboard to school, fewer than one in five report actually doing that even once a week.
Safe Routes to School programs, which have generally focused on walking to school, are increasingly aiming to promote biking by adding bike racks on school property and teaching safe riding. Some communities, both in Colorado and across the nation, are organizing bike trains. With an adult as the leader and another as the caboose, several kids can safely bike to and from school together.
Interested in learning more about these community health issues? Watch for the upcoming release of the 2015 Colorado Health Report Card, which dives deeper into physical activity habits of students as well as Safe Routes to Schools policy options.