VINELAND — Local officials are planning a few projects aimed at getting city residents living in New Jersey’s least healthy county up and moving to improve their physical conditions.
One part of the plan involves creating two miles of downtown bike lanes that will run on Wood and Elmer streets between East and West avenues. The other is a monthly fun and fitness event held in the downtown Landis Avenue business district on the first Friday of most spring and summer months.
The evening events would close a block of Landis Avenue for families to participate in a series of yet-to-be-developed events.
A goal of both projects is to improve local and Cumberland County health indicators that Emma Lopez, health educator for the city’s health department, called “horrible.” One of the biggest problems is obesity, she said.
While improving personal health is the main goal, another objective of the bike paths and the monthly street fair is also improve the economic health of the Landis Avenue business district.
A 2012 study by the University of Wisconsin and the Princeton-based Robert Wood Johnson Foundation listed Cumberland County as the least healthy county in New Jersey for the third consecutive year. The ranking, which began in 2010, considers factors that affect people’s health in the categories of healthy behavior, clinical care, social and economic factors and physical environmental.
Cumberland County’s results were dismal: Some of the findings show that the county’s adult obesity, physical inactivity, excessive drinking, sexually transmitted infection and teen birth rates all exceed state and national averages. The study also suggested that the county has a generation of people whose life spans may be shorter than those of their parents.
The study also showed South Jersey to be the least healthy section of the state.
City officials said they hope the bike paths will make it easier for local residents, including those whose can not afford a car because of their poor financial condition, to get downtown and shop in local stores. Businesses could also extend their hours on the night of the fun and fitness fair.
The City Engineer’s office, meanwhile, is hoping that the designated bike lanes will improve motor vehicle safety on Wood and Elmer streets. The designated bike lanes will narrow the area through which vehicles can drive. That could finally convince motorists that the two, one-way streets are designed to be traversed by only a single line of vehicles.
Lopez said the bike lane plan stemmed from the city’s first bike-to-work event two years ago.
“I biked into work and just realized that we have no bike lanes anywhere,” she said. “It’s pretty difficult to maneuver on the street, and we’re not allowed to be on the sidewalks.”
City officials eventually opted to install the bike lanes as a way to not only improve safety for bicyclists, but to sort of play off a health initiatives by the local YMCA. The YMCA is trying to promote increased physical activity here, and is even asking local grocers to stock more healthy foods.
The bike path project — which includes painting designated bike lanes and crosswalks and installing associated signage — is being financed by a $4,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through the YMCA.
Lopez said the city expects to receive bids for the work next week. Plans call for the bike lanes to be in place by the next bike-to-work event in May, she said.
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