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Global Obesity Prevention Center

St. Vincent Greenway Evaluation:

The role of local bike policies and greenways in preventing childhood obesity


Project Lead: Elizabeth A. Dodson, PhD, MPH




The St. Louis, Missouri region recently completed and approved a comprehensive Gateway Bike Plan to support over 1,000 miles of on-road and greenway bicycle paths. An early example of this work is the extension of the St. Vincent Greenway, which will connect the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and north St. Louis County and City communities with Forest Park (a 1,371 acre urban park) and additional opportunities for recreation, transportation, and civic engagement. Great Rivers Greenway, a local nonprofit agency, oversaw the greenway extension.

This study was a natural experiment, in which sought to evaluate the effects of the environmental change (greenway extension) on childhood and family health behaviors before and after the greenway was completed. Great Rivers greenway, and thus the greenway project, is publicly-funded, through a small sales tax passed by the City of St. Louis and two surrounding counties, and is designed to connect residential areas, commercial areas, and major city/county parks to enhance quality of life of nearby residents and offer safe places for recreation and active transportation. 

The greenway portion evaluation was identified as a 2012 priority by a collaboration of state and local governing bodies and was to be built in an underserved neighborhood of St. Louis where access to safe places for active transportation and recreation is limited and chronic disease and poverty rates are above state and national averages. Increasing access to recreation and active transportation is an evidence-based means of promoting childhood and family wellbeing. The creation of the greenway has potential to increase healthy behaviors of all residents.



st vin 3Activity 1: Conduct a household-level survey of families within ¼ mile of the greenway and control sites before and after greenway construction. Survey will assess resident and family physical activity, well-being, and travel and play habits.

Households were mailed paper surveys soliciting one adult resident of the home (≥18 years of age) to complete and return the survey in exchange for a gift card. A total of 772 surveys were completed and returned (response rate of 21.9%).

Activity 2: Conduct an environmental scan of intervention and control neighborhood parks and greenway (before and after construction) to capture observed physical activity levels. 

The System for Observing Play and Recreation in Communities (SOPARC) and adapted path counts from Open Streets initiatives were used to assess the number of users, demographic characteristics, and physical activity behaviors of users along the greenway and control sites. The greenway site was a sidewalk prior to greenway construction. The control site included a bike lane, sharrows, and sidewalks that did not change during the course of observation. Trained observers conducted the systematic scans and summary counts over 14 consecutive days prior to the greenway completion in June 2012 and one year after installation in June 2013. Estimated physical activity level and demographic characteristics including gender and age group were assessed. 

BEFORE                                                                 AFTER

Sample Presentations:

  1. Zwald M, Hipp JA, Dodson EA, Geary N.  Walking for transportation and perceived built environment factors associated with public transportation use in St. Louis, Missouri. Active Living Research. San Diego, CA. 2014.
  2. Hipp JA, Dodson EA, Duling L, Geary N, Zwald M. A Difference in Difference study of greenway use. Active Living Research. San Diego, CA. 2014.
  3. Geary N, Hipp JA, Dodson EA. Youth physical activity and parent’s perceptions of neighborhood crime and neighborhood design. International Society of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. San Diego, CA. 2014.
  4. Geary N, Hipp JA, Dodson EA, Duling L. Parents’ perceived barriers to using local parks and youth physical activity. International Society of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. Ghent, Belgium. 2013.
  5. Dodson EA, Hipp JA, Geary N, Duling L. Is walking behavior associated with destinations considered walkable in an urban neighborhood? International Society of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. Ghent, Belgium. 2013.

Sample Publications:

  1. Zwald M, Hipp JA, Corseuil Marui, Dodson EA. Correlates of walking for transportation and public transportation use among St. Louis, Missouri adults. Preventing Chronic Disease. 2014;11:140125.
  2. Budd EL, Hipp JA, Geary N, Dodson EA.  Racial differences in parental perceptions of the neighborhood as predictors of children's physical activity and sedentary behavior. Preventive Medicine Reports. 2015; 2:397-402.

Additional Information:
To learn more, please email the Global Obesity Prevention Center at Johns Hopkins here.