Ferguson is a municipality in North St. Louis County where 71% of the people are overweight or obese. With some great ideas and some committed volunteers, we decided that we could help people live healthier lives through active living and improved dietary habits. We started a program called Live Well Ferguson that focuses on impacting policy, enhancing the environment, and creating healthy social networks.
We started doing Sunday Parkways events in neighborhoods around the city. For an afternoon, we have 20-30 activities such as dance and fitness classes, rock climbing, loaner bicycles, free helmets, and obstacle courses. Because of the increased attention to these neighborhoods that Sunday Parkways brings, improvements have been made to their parks and streets. Residents of two of the hosting neighborhoods have used the event to kickstart neighborhood associations.
Sunday Parkways is a chance for neighbors to meet each other who might not otherwise meet. The next Sunday Parkways on October 7 will go through a neighborhood without a park. So we are building a pop-up park with potted plants, seating, helmet decorating, and a kiosk with information on jobs available in the area.
New friends are made during Sunday Parkways. We wanted a way to continue those friendships, so we started the Youth Bike Club. Youth from throughout North County ride at cultural events and in parks and on trails throughout the region. All members receive bicycle handling and safety training, and it is free for all youth to join.
Youth Bike Club members also share healthy meals together. We shop together at the Ferguson Farmers Market before each ride and get to know each other better through conversation and food. While we’re at the market on Saturday mornings, the Ferguson Running Club is chasing each around our city parks.
The Running Club is also free to join, and many members are training for the annual Ferguson Twilight 5K. Each year, this race brings over 1000 runners and walkers to the streets of Ferguson. Many people join a team through their school, place of worship, or workplace.
For many people, this is their first time running in a timed race. The 5K distance can be intimidating, so some residents formed a Couch to 5K club. Over 80 people trained together three nights a week. Then once the race was over, they kept on running together because they enjoyed each other’s company so much.
Another club that is free for anyone to join is the Ferguson Cycling Club. This club goes on fun rides to eat at restaurants, listen to music, and camp in parks. The club also cleans bicycles for free for people who ride their bike to the Ferguson Farmers Market.
We want people to be out on our streets so that they can build relationships with one another and look out for each other. Pedestrians and cyclists have an opportunity that people in cars do not. We have the opportunity to introduce ourselves at intersections and get to know each other through our daily travels.
Sometimes the best way to get people out on bikes is to do something fun where biking to get there is just part of the excitement. We started a bike-in movie theater, and we’ve led bicycle tours of backyard gardens and parks. We also started throwinga big party called the Twilight Ramble, and the invitation to get in was your bicycle. This annual cookout with live music includes 1, 5, and 15 mile rides for people of all ages and abilities.
During the two shorter rides of the Twilight Ramble, roads are temporarily blocked by police officers and volunteers in police service. Participants are educated on how to ride safely in traffic for the longer ride. For the majority of people who are interested in cycling for transportation but don’t because of safety concerns, the Twilight Ramble is a great opportunity to try out a ride to local destinations.
Years ago, the city acquired a fleet of ten bicycles through a CMAQ grant. We’ve since added three youth bicycles to the fleet. City employees who have completed a bicycle handling and safety training course are able to loan out a bicycle to use for transportation or recreation. These bicycles are also available for the public to borrow at Sunday Parkways events and Youth Bike Club rides.
Getting around by bike opened the eyes of several City employees to the conditions for cyclists in this city. This perspective helped staff to draft an ordinance that our City Council adopted which allows cyclists full use of a traffic lane. The bicycle and pedestrian facility network in our city’s plan includes off-street trails as well as sidewalk and street enhancements.
Our public safety, public works, planning, parks, finance, and administration departments are working together to balance safety and convenience for all roadway users. Most people learn how to walk and ride a bike at a young age. Live Well Ferguson works to remind people of the rules of the road and the respect that is needed for one another as we get to where we’re going.
To gather public feedback on street details such as traffic lights, parking, and bike lanes, we held the Better Block Project and surveyed people passing through. We put out potted trees, board games, and street musicians, and we filled the vacant buildings with art galleries, restaurants, and shops. People walked back and forth up and down the block just because they liked being there.
People felt safe and they felt comfortable when there were lots of people around. They enjoyed the music, the games, and each other’s company so much that they may not have even realized that they were walking or biking farther than they had in a long time.
Of course, incentives help along the way. We put out free breakfast in front of the Ferguson Bicycle Shop for people biking by on National Bike to Work Day this year. Businesses in our Citywalk Downtown District lure cycling customers with colorful bike parking and discounts for those who arrive by bike.
In Ferguson, we focus on getting people out of their homes and onto the streets on foot or on bicycle more often. Regular events in walkable and bikeable areas such as concerts, festivals, historic home tours, and even the biggest yard sale in history encourage people to travel by foot or bike. And a free helmet doesn’t hurt.
Encouraging people to get out and get active can be as simple as drawing a temporary board game on the street. The entrance sign to our city that says Playful City USA lets people know that it is OK to be out having fun here. In fact, we want you to.
In reality, Ferguson does not have the most bike friendly or pedestrian friendly streets. Cars sometimes drive fast here, we don’t have separated bicycle lanes, and not all of our streets have sidewalks. But what we do have are friendly people on our streets. When friends and neighbors see each other out walking and cycling, they encourage each other’s healthy habits and make the street a welcome place to be for pedestrians and cyclists.