In Spartanburg County, health advocates are getting to the heart of the matter — and it involves a lot of bikes.
The story starts back in the 1990s, when advocates and community partners in the South Carolina county looked at the greatest health risks facing their community. They determined cardiovascular disease was in the top five, and a special task force was commissioned to address the issue.
It didn’t take long before the task force realized that the only way to effectively combat the disease would be to get people active. In 2003, Partners for Active Living
(PAL) was created to get the county moving.
“I think most people want to be healthy, and want their children to be healthy,” says Laura Ringo
, PAL’s executive director and a PreventObesity.net Leader. “They just don’t know how to do it in a way that’s sustainable.”
PAL’s goal is to change the environment in Spartanburg County to make it easy to be active, Ringo says. The group has helped usher through numerous policy changes, including complete streets programs, joint use agreements and safe parks. PAL also has helped local schools implement walk-to-school programs, which garnered a shout-out on First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! blog
Encouraging folks to walk and/or bike perhaps has been among the most effective initiatives, Ringo says, in part because it’s the most sustainable. “The most number of people can do them in the most places at the lowest cost,” she says.
PAL helped implement the county’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan, and helped establish more than 20 miles of bike lanes and install bike racks throughout the city.
The city of Spartanburg is also home to “Spartanburg B-cycle,” the first bike-share system in the Southeast. PAL also is partnering with the Hub City Farmer’s Market
on a mobile farmer’s market and mobile bike rental system, which has visited several cities in the county to help encourage healthy eating and physical activity.
Now PAL is working on bringing everything together. Right now, many of those bike and pedestrian lanes are disconnected, making it hard for folks to use in their every day commute or to run errands. Continuing to work on the county’s infrastructure will be a key component of addressing this, Ringo says.
“Most of us really love our job and we’re excited about what we’re doing,” Ringo says. “I think we have seen success and we’ve seen people change their behaviors.”