County walking program expands to Hollidaysburg

A walking encouragement program launched last year in Altoona will expand to Hollidaysburg this year through a partnership between the Blair County Planning Commission and the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health.

Plans call for an April 22 kick-off to introduce two walking routes through Hollidaysburg that will be identified with signage.

In addition, the commission on Thursday showed interest in continuing to consider health-related effects when evaluating land development proposals and policies. The interest typically focuses on sidewalks, but it also surfaces when considering recreational land uses as advocated in the county’s long-range plan.

“We’ve been heading down this road already,” Planning Commission Director David McFarland said Thursday. “It’s now trying to head down to the local level.”

Carol Reichbaum, director of WalkWorks, the initiative by the state Department of Health and Pitt’s health school leading to walking routes in Altoona and Hollidaysburg, spoke Thursday to the commission about a Health in All Policies initiative.

Referred to as HiAP, the initiative is designed to help decision-makers be aware of how they can influence the health of a community through policies, Reichbaum said.

“Over the last 60 years, we didn’t intentionally incur obesity,” McFarland said. “But if more people begin walking and making efforts to improve their health, we can bring down health costs.”

Sidewalk maintenance remains an unpopular topic for municipalities and their residents, planning commission Chairman William Hall said.

“It takes political will on the part of the elected officials to keep sidewalks in good repair,” he said. “The only place I know that does that is State College.”

The replacing of sidewalks along Sixth and Seventh avenues in Altoona, undertaken through a grant program, made an “amazing difference,” planning commission member Randy Isenberg said. But that project also generated dissension from residents on nearby streets, said Isenberg, who questioned when the city would replace their sidewalks.

“The cost of who pays for it has always been a struggle,” he said.

Meanwhile, the planning commission agreed that sidewalks should continue to be a consideration when reviewing land development plans.

Efforts in recent years have led to some new sidewalks along portions of Pleasant Valley Boulevard and Logan Boulevard, where Altoona and Logan Township leaders have been encouraged to require them on behalf of pedestrians.

“It looked kind of silly at first,” Isenberg said. “But we’re seeing them fill in.”

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.