Pennsylvania Launches Initiative to Promote Active Transportation and Healthier Communities

People walkingPhoto by Kaique Rocha on Pexels.com

HARRISBURG, PA — To foster healthier lifestyles and more vibrant communities across Pennsylvania, the Shapiro Administration recently unveiled a new funding opportunity aimed at helping municipalities plan for more walkable, bikeable, and transit-friendly environments. The initiative, named the Justin R. Lehman Community Capacity-Building Pre-Planning Assistance Program, is part of the broader WalkWorks program, which seeks to encourage physical activity among residents by improving connections to local destinations.

Acting Secretary of Health Dr. Debra Bogen emphasized the health benefits of regular physical activity, noting, “Moving our bodies is a great way to improve our overall health, helping prevent stress and diseases, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Walking is one of the easiest and most accessible ways to do that.” This sentiment underscores the administration’s commitment to addressing public health challenges through proactive community planning and engagement.

Municipalities, including boroughs, cities, towns, townships, and counties, are invited to apply for up to $3,000 in pre-planning assistance through this grant. The funds are intended to lay the groundwork for developing comprehensive active transportation plans that incorporate pedestrian, bicycle, and transit networks, thereby making it easier for residents to engage in walking, biking, or other forms of non-motorized transport.

The importance of this initiative cannot be overstated. In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the need to design communities in ways that support active lifestyles. Not only does this approach have the potential to improve public health outcomes, but it also contributes to environmental sustainability, reduces traffic congestion, and enhances the quality of life for all residents.

However, many municipalities face significant barriers when attempting to develop active transportation plans. These can include a lack of expertise, insufficient resources, and the absence of a clear roadmap for moving forward. The Justin R. Lehman Community Capacity-Building Pre-Planning Assistance Program aims to address these challenges by providing targeted financial support and technical assistance. This will enable municipalities to prepare effectively for future grants focused on the actual development of active transportation plans.

The Department of Health, through funding from the Preventive Health and Health Services Block Grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, makes this program possible. It is administered by the Pennsylvania Downtown Center, reflecting a collaborative approach to public health and community development.

Interested municipalities have until 5:00 PM on May 31, 2024, to submit their applications. To assist applicants, an optional one-hour webinar will be held on April 18, providing an overview of the funding opportunity, application process, and expectations for grantees. This session will also address questions from potential applicants, offering a valuable resource for those looking to participate in the program.

As Pennsylvania looks to the future, initiatives like the WalkWorks program represent a critical step towards creating communities that not only thrive economically but also promote the well-being of their residents. By investing in the infrastructure and planning necessary to support active transportation, the state is making a clear statement about the value it places on health, sustainability, and community livability.

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