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By Dr. Rose M. Gowen, Brownsville City Commissioner
Science and research and a community along the Texas-Mexican Gulf Coast border were not partners 10 years ago. Quite honestly, 10 years ago, Brownsville (like many other communities) would not have known how or why to begin such a relationship. Today, public health is a cornerstone in Brownsville's efforts to create a vibrant, prosperous, and healthy community.
Eleven years ago, the Regional Area Health Science Center brought the UT School of Public Health (UTSPH) to town. Since then, researchers have watched over who we are and what our risks are. Findings thus far include a 52% obesity rate and not surprisingly a nearly 30% rate of diabetes. In an area with high poverty and high health disparity, the perfect storm swirls around us.
In 2009 a long-range plan known as Imagine Brownsville was developed. Among the determinants were the need to create a walkable and bicycle friendly city with a sense of place and the need to protect our unique environment punctuated by a network of natural waterways called "resacas" throughout the city.
Community members, policy makers, and professors began working together to consider solutions. Brownsville has not been bicycle or pedestrian friendly and kayaking opportunities have been narrow. Few bicycle lanes, many disconnected sidewalk segments, and many too-shallow resacas run through the city. Like many other cities in the country, urban sprawl and dependence on automobile transportation rule.
In 2008 a team of City staff, Su Clinica Familiar (community health clinic), and the UTSPH began a farmers market to promote fresh fruits and vegetables. The Brownsville Farmers' Market is held in Linear Park at the trailhead of the Historic Battlefield Trail (the only hike and bike trail in the city), offering the opportunity and attraction of active transportation along the trail. Shoppers arriving by bicycle are no longer an oddity today.
In 2011 the Public Utilities Board began moving forward on a plan for resaca restoration. The Resaca Restoration plan will take four resacas a year and dredge them, removing years of built-up sludge, thus improving water storage, renewing ecosystems, and allowing for kayak trail development.
Community-wide programs teaching the health and economic value of active living and healthy eating draw more partners each year to join the founding partners of the UTSPH and the City. January 11, 2013 will be the kick off of the fourth Brownsville Biggest Loser Challenge that attracted over 1000 participants in the third season. The Challenge has produced two Guinness World Records and new active travelers!
City policy is being reviewed, and in 2011, a gap closed with the passing of an ordinance for commercial development (not just residential) to include sidewalks. October 2012 was an exceptional month for a budding bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly Brownsville. Bicyclists and other vulnerable travelers are now better protected by a Safe Passing ordinance. The ordinance directs automobiles to remain four feet away from vulnerable travelers. In addition, a Complete Streets Resolution was passed after hosting a Complete Streets workshop open to the public.
The community group Brownsville in Motion meets once a month to discuss progress and vision. Members include policy makers, city staff, professors, and students. A planning grant from the National Park Service to connect the three battlefields in Brownsville is nearly complete, and community meetings are being held to gather input as design for a new one-mile trail funded by a Texas Parks and Wildlife grant is underway.
Plans are complete and grants have been submitted for the bank of the first resaca to be restored. The restored resaca will not only support an enriched ecosystem, but the bank will also provide a trail/boardwalk and reflective greenspace with a kayak dock. This first resaca runs alongside the historically recognized City Cemetery where veterans from every American war since the American Revolution, together with many of the city's and region's founding fathers, rest. Planners are making sure to intertwine the city's history with active public spaces.
What's next? A Master Bicycle Pedestrian Plan is about to begin and the inaugural position of Bicycle Pedestrian Coordinator is open. Build a Better Block projects are up and running each month, complete with bicycle lanes and pedestrian corridors, and the first Ciclovia ....CicloBia (B for Brownsville)..... is going to be held November 4, 2012!
Momentum is building in Brownsville and as I look back over the past few years it is clear that science, research, planning, parks, health, and the environment have developed not just an acquaintance but a meaningful relationship that is working together to build the road to a vibrant, prosperous, and healthy community that is pedestrian, bicycle, and kayak friendly!
BikeTexas hosted a booth at the Síclovía, also for the third time. We were able to give away about 500 bookmarks and 500 coloring books about bike safety to children who stopped by the booth. We also handed out 1000 light sets to kids, and TxDOT handed out 800 more to help keep San Antonio's kids well-lit and safe while walking and biking!
Additionally, we brought the BikeTexas bike fleet along to offer free bike rentals to people who wanted to roll along Broadway instead of walking.
The next San Antonio Síclovía is scheduled for April 7, 2013.
Brownsville will host its first-ever CycloBia on Sunday, November 4, from 10 AM to 3 PM.
The day begins with opening ceremonies in Dean Porter Park at 10 AM, and continues with seven miles of car-free streets for walking, running, cycling, rollerblading, skateboarding, hula hooping, or just enjoying the outdoors.
For more information, visit the Brownsville CycloBia Facebook page or call the Brownsville Health Dept at 956-547-6530.
Martes 16 de Octubre de 2012 14:47
Be Safe, Be Bright is a statewide bike light giveaway organized by BikeTexas! Through a grant from the Texas Department of Transportation's Safe Routes to School program, BikeTexas has purchased Safety LED lights to distribute to over 100,000 Texas school children.
The lights arrived on September 28 and we've been hard at work ever since sending lights to schools, partners and organizations around the state. Our lights are easy to install in seconds. The front white light can be mounted on the bike handlebar with the rear red light on the seatpost or bike frame for kids that bike to school; they can also be mounted on a backpack or tennis shoes for kids that walk to school.
The packaging is waste-free; the lights come attached to a water-resistant card, which is printed with Bike & Walk Safety Tips in English and Spanish and is a highly durable education tool. We encourage kids to keep the card with them all times so they can share these safety tips with other kids.
On October 24, BikeTexas, Rails to Trails Conservancy, Texas State University, VIA Metropolitan Transit, San Antonio Office of Sustainability, and the San Antonio-Bexar County MPO are co-hosting Tracy Hadden Loh from Washington, DC to speak about "Federal Bicycle Transportation Funding: What It Means for Texas."
Who: Tracy Hadden Loh, Rails to Trails Conservancy Research Manager and Director of the National Transportation Enhancement Clearinghouse
Where: VIA community room, 1021 San Pedro, San Antonio
When: 6:30 PM, October 24
(See this map for bus routes that serve the VIA building.)
Ms. Loh has served many years as the Director of the Transportation Enhancements Clearinghouse and is highly regarded as an expert on federal funding of bicycle and pedestrian facilities. Don't miss this chance to hear what she has to say about the opportunities and challenges with the federal transportation bill. RSVP here!
On October 25, Texas State University, BikeTexas, Rails to Trails Conservancy, University of Texas Center for Transportation Research, and Texas A&M Transportation Institute are co-hosting local and national experts as part of the Great Streets for Small Towns Symposium.
What: Great Streets for Small Towns Symposium
Who: Local and National Transportation experts
Where: Texas State University-San Marcos Undergraduate Academic Center, Room 308
When: 5:30-7:30 PM, October 25, 2012
BikeTexas Executive Director Robin Stallings will be speaking on "Bicycling in the New Federal Transportation Bill: What it Means for Texas." Other speakers are San Marcos Councilmember John Thomaides, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Research Manager Tracy Hadden Loh, Dr. Jennifer Duthie of UT Center for Transportation Research, and moderator Dr. Billy Fields, director of Texas State's Center for Research, Public Policy, and Training. RSVP here for this event.
Mark your calendar for these great events!
Our friends at BikeHouston are hosting a spooky, late-night ride on October 27: The 40th annual Moonlight Bicycle Ramble. Proceeds from the ride support BikeHouston and their bicycle advocacy work in the city of Houston!
For more information and to register for the ride, go here (online and mail-in registration are available). Bike lights and helmets are required; costumes are encouraged for the costume contest!
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