Ellen Thomas has been a pediatrician at Tiger Pediatrics for 17 years. Tiger Pediatrics is the largest private practice pediatrician group in mid-Missouri.
Why are you interested in active transportation?
As a pediatrician, I know active transportation provides a lot of benefits for kids. Most kids need more physical activity than they actually get, and active transportation is a great way for them to get that. We know that being active and outside helps kids with relieving stress, improving their schoolwork, and developing independence. We also know that we have a problem in our area with people having difficulty accessing services like medical care. Active transportation allows people to get to services like doctor’s offices and grocery stores.
Lots of kids are not able to participate in the enriching activities that take place outside of regular school hours—clubs, sports, music, etc., because they depend on the school bus or being transported by parents’ cars. I think this is one of many contributing factors to our achievement gap here in Columbia. Safe active transportation options for kids would allow more kids to take advantage of the great opportunities CPS provides.
What made you decide to become a PedNet business member?
What does your business do to encourage active transportation?
Our office has bike racks at the building and showers for employees to use. I am a dedicated bike commuter, and it’s nice to be able to shower once I get here. And we talk to our clients about being active all the time.
How does active transportation impact your business?
We have a crisis in United States of disease and problems related to living a sedentary lifestyle. For many people it is difficult to find time to schedule in exercise, but if it were easy to use physical activity in day-to-day activities, we would see higher levels of physical activity among kids, and also among their parents, who are their role models.
What are the challenges of active transportation to your clients?
We have a lot of rural patients. Rural areas are much less well-supplied with active transportation options. Columbia’s active transportation options are improving. Now our office can be reached by the Hominy Trail instead of having to bike on East Broadway, but many people don’t know what facilities are available for using active transportation. It’s not part of our culture for a lot of people, and the distances we need to travel are still long because we have a sprawled development pattern, especially outside of downtown. Big, high traffic roads can also be a barrier. School start times are an issue for kids being able to walk to school, especially because elementary school starts so early. And not having the Walking School Bus program anymore is a problem, because it allowed families to feel a lot more comfortable introducing their kids to active transportation.
Do you have any advice to encourage others to use active transportation?
People think you have to make a huge commitment to active transportation: you have to do all your trips by walking or biking, and that is a big barrier. Just try making some of your trips with active transportation, like when you don’t have to travel far, or when you don’t have a lot of stuff, or when the weather is good. You may find there are a lot more days than you thought when the weather is comfortable, and you can go farther than you thought, and there are many different routes available. It’s not all or nothing, you don’t have to commit to everything. Start with what is easy and reasonable to do, and it will change how you think about getting from place to place.
How do you think we can make our community more walkable, bikeable and public transit-friendly?
We need to continue with what we’re doing. Columbia is much better than it used to be. We should look at our development patterns and move away from sprawling development, wide roads with fast moving traffic, and giant parking lots. We can change our environment to be more inviting to walking or using other forms of active transportation. The big problem with transit is that we don’t have enough investment in it. It’s not a good system so people don’t support it, which creates a vicious cycle. People who have seen good transit systems in other cities know how important it can be to a community, but people who have only seen Columbia’s transit system don’t know how good it can be. And we need the Walking School Bus to come back.
(Dr. Thomas’s comments are her own views and are not necessarily representative of Tiger Pediatrics.)