OKLAHOMA CITY – Hot on the heels of his state earning awards for fastest growth in adult obesity and seventh most obese state in the nation, Mayor Mick Cornett of Oklahoma City knows biking and walking are the cure.

CDC Overweight and Obesity Map

Percent of Obese (BMI > 30) in U.S. Adults (graphic: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

In this Atlantic Cities article, the mayor talks about the first time he realized he was obese and how the revelation spurred him to action.

“I realized I was a perfect example of all the problems Oklahoma City was facing,” Cornett says, who’s since lost 42 pounds. “I had always lived in the suburbs. I always drove my car. I liked to park for free right in front of the door so I didn’t have to walk. If we were at my house when I was raising children, if I had said, ‘OK, let’s go around the block,’ they would have looked for the car keys.”

Cornett says he saw the world through the eyes of an Oklahoma City resident, and from that viewpoint, if there was no traffic congestion and the housing was large and cheap, that was a great way to live. In Oklahoma City, you could live on a farm 20 miles outside of the downtown core, and still only have a 20-minute commute.

“We had inspired our civil engineers through the years that their job was to see how fast they could get cars from one place to another,” Cornett says. “And, mission accomplished.”

Cornett understands the way land use and public health affect the overall economy. He knows the more roads and highways are expanded, the less people want to use public transit. He knows the more the city sprawls, the costlier it is to provide public services. He understands that if you design a city focused solely on moving private automobiles as quickly as possible, your budget will explode, public health will crumble, and businesses will be afraid to set up shop in your city because of increased employee health care costs.

Project 180 in OKC

Project 180 in Oklahoma City will add bike lanes and improve walkability downtown. (photo: Project 180)

To counter the obesity problem, the Oklahoma City mayor launched a website to help citizens track their weight loss with the goal of the city losing one million pounds. Tulsa mayor Dewey Bartlett launched a similar website called “Get Lean Tulsa.” But while the mayors’ online approaches are similar, Oklahoma City’s mayor is doing more offline by redesigning the city to help the people of Oklahoma City work toward an active and healthy lifestyle through the addition of 400 miles of sidewalks, a 70-acre park in downtown, and a bike master plan that includes the addition of bike lanes as part of an effort dubbed “Project 180.”

The downtown redesign project is being paid for with Tax Increment Financing (TIF) from construction of the 50-story Devon Tower and General Obligation Bonds passed in a 2007 bond election.

Perhaps the addition of Dawn Warrick as Tulsa’s new city planning director will accelerate Tulsa’s efforts at improving bike friendliness and walkability. Tulsa desperately needs someone like Cornett with the political will to set policy designed to curb Oklahoma’s obesity epidemic and improve quality of life by encouraging Tulsans to incorporate active transportation into their daily lives.

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