Biking, Walking Projects to Help Make Rochester, Minn., International Wellness Community

Posted 04/09/14 by Elissa Southward in Health and Wellness, Success Stories

Photo CC cursedthing via Flickr

In honor of National Public Health Week (April 7 - 11) and RTC's spotlight on Minnesota this month, here's a great post by RTC's own Healthy Communities Manager, Elissa Southward.

Recently, Jay Walljasper published an article in the Minnesota Post about the city of Rochester’s plan to target overall wellness through collaborative efforts with the Mayo Clinic, the state of Minnesota and Olmsted County. 

According to the article, in just Rochester alone, there are 100 miles of bike trails, 23 miles of on-street bike lanes and 514 miles of sidewalks. And apparently, Rochester plans to expand them all.

More specifically, the plan includes—

[P]roviding options for improving health and fitness, effectively managing the increase in visitors and residents, increasing the social connections that foster a vibrant community, and attracting highly trained young professionals to keep Rochester at the top in the health-care field.

The wellness plan stems from a $5.5 billion private-public plan to transform Rochester into a global Destination Medical Center (DMC), which the city hopes will generate tens of thousands of jobs and billions in tax revenues, and make Rochester an international attraction. 

The original intent of this plan was to attract “medical tourists” and remain competitive with places like Cleveland Clinic and Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. But as Dan Nelson, general manager of the Hampton Inn Suites on the city’s north side, acknowledges in the article, more walking and biking projects do, and will continue to, help boost Rochester’s business climate. 

“When they’re out on the streets, they are more likely to go into a store and buy something.” A congenial pedestrian environment, Nelson said, will also help promote the city’s appeal for “wellness weekend getaways—where people come here to learn more about how to live healthier.”

Walljasper writes that Rochester has already been busy making improvements in biking, walking and transit since 2010 as part of its Complete Streets strategy. A number of infrastructure projects have already started yielding great results, including better sidewalks, landscaping, curb extensions, bike lanes, medians, curb bump-outs and disability access.

In the county health rankings in Minnesota, Olmsted County comes in at number 1 (out of 87 total) for health outcomes, due in part to their high percentage of residents that have access to exercise opportunities (80 percent) as well as their low percentage of physically inactive residents (20 percent).  This is supported in large part by the significant amount of walking and biking infrastructure available.  

Rochester is a testament to the power collaboration has in not only increasing investment in walking and biking projects, but in recognizing its pivotal role in the health of a community.  

We at RTC applaud their efforts and look forward to seeing the great impact this work will have for the people of Rochester.

Read Jay Walljasper's article here.

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