Golden Hills works to improve biking and walking opportunities in our rural communities to improve quality of life, public health, and the local economy. In 2017 Golden Hills received aWellmark Foundation MATCH Grant for bicycling education and promotion throughout the region. This project worked to improve and promote safe bicycling and walking in rural southwest Iowa, focusing on bicycling education for riders, potential riders, and drivers. People driving motor vehicles and people riding bikes must know the rules of the road and share with other users. The combination of education and cooperation between all users and stewards of the roadway will produce positive outcomes, allowing for increased safe use of bicycles, which has direct positive health, environmental, and economic effects. This project also worked with communities to encourage infrastructure improvements for walking and biking, such as designated on-road bicycle routes and signage.
As of 2019, most of the in our region have completed a County-Wide trails plan through the National Park Service’sRivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program(RTCA). Golden Hills has also helped several communities with visioning and planning processes to improve sidewalks, crosswalks, trails, and overall walkability and bikeability.
Benefits of Biking & Walking Our primary goal is to improve the safety and health of rural southwest Iowans through education, promotion, and infrastructure improvements. Southwest Iowa counties are consistently ranked among the least healthy in the state, and this is largely due to lack of access to recreational facilities. By making it easier and safer to bicycle, we will see improved health outcomes. Regular physical activity is associated with healthy weight, improved mental health, and decreased risk of diseases such as stroke, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, depression, and some cancers. It also promotes social well-being by enhancing social cohesion, and economic well-being by reducing health care costs and transportation costs. Less vehicular travel also means less pollution, contributing to better air quality.
To make bicycling a practical mode of transportation, we need better infrastructure and support from local communities, and we must prevent hazardous situations between motorized and non-motorized transportation on roadways. These accidents, which often end in fatalities, have varying causes attributed to each of them, but proper education, adherence to the law and safety precautions could have potentially prevented them all. In addition to education, infrastructure improvements even as simple as pavement markings and signage are important to the inclusion of bicycles on our roadways.
Most of our rural communities have also experienced population declines and economic uncertainty for many years. Improving bikeability has been shown to produceeconomic gains that will provide myriad benefits to all residents.
Increased bicycle friendliness creates a welcoming environment for bicycle tourism, which is a great economic stimulator. By making bicycling (as a mode of transportation, exercise, exercise, or all of the above) a safe and enjoyable possibility for people of all ages and abilities, we are creating a higher quality of life for our communities. The communities will also greatly benefit from embracing bicycling by enhancements made in their own recreational amenities and downtown areas.
The video below from Path Less Pedaled explains how biking can help revitalize and grow our rural communities.