By Mary Therese Biebel, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader
WILKES-BARRE — Michele Shasberger has a dream.
In her dream, local folks are boosting their health, shedding weight and beating stress by slipping into some comfortable shoes and stretching their legs.
Maybe they’re walking with friends in their neighborhood before work, or with co-workers on their lunch hour. Maybe they’re meeting at the YMCA on a summer evening to join a group that will stroll around downtown Wilkes-Barre while a knowledgeable guide from the Y Walk Wednesday program talks about the area’s history, architecture, levee system and natural areas.
As Healthier Communities Coordinator, Shasberger is glad when she sees people walking for just about any reason, but she admits there can be extra benefits when people choose foot power as the way to reach a destination. If people walk to work or school or to the gym instead of driving there in an individual car — or perhaps if they walked to a bus stop and rode public transportation to their destination instead of driving there — the roadways would be less congested, the air would be less polluted, and the site of all those happy pedestrians would likely encourage still more walking and foster a healthier community.
Late last month, Shasberger received word the Wilkes-Barre YMCA had received a grant that could bring her dream closer to reality.
The YMCA, in partnership with LiveWell Luzerne and the Luzerne County Transportation Authority, was chosen to receive a $1,500 America Walks and Every Body Walk! collaborative microgrant.
“I’m kind of amazed,” she said. “They sifted through more than 800 applications and chose 22. It’s wonderful to get it.”
The YMCA and its partners will use the money to promote walking in general, and the Y Walk Wednesdays program in particular, through a series of advertisements on buses.
Among the information she’d like to share, Shasberger said, is the idea that walking is something you can start right away. You don’t have to become a star athlete first, and you don’t have to wait until you have a nice chunk of time off.
“We can hike around here,” she said. “We don’t have to go to Colorado. You don’t have to wait until you have a two-week vacation. The best kind of exercise is the kind you get when you’re not (intentionally) exercising.”
The partners also are interested in promoting bus ridership and in making sure that bus riders — many of whom may also walk to destinations because of choice or necessity — have a safe and comfortable experience walking to bus stops.
LCTA executive director Norm Gavlick said the transportation authority commissioned an independent rider survey in 2016, and the LCTA can use information from that survey, which was completed in August, “to really target making some of the bus stops more walkable, safe and comfortable.”
The survey found that 76 percent of LCTA riders have no other means of transportation, and 93 percent walk to and from their destinations.
“Partnerships and projects like this are very exciting for the Y,” Wilkes-Barre YMCA executive director Jim Thomas said in a news release. “Our motto is to be for youth development, healthy living and social responsibility and this project helps us to both promote healthy living and be socially responsible.
“In the long term, it is good for us locally and globally. Every bus user decreases congestion and air pollution for the rest of us, and every additional person who can come downtown is a potential Y member.”
While frequent bus riders can be as savvy as the drivers in directing people to the right bus that will take them to a particular street or shopping mall or section of town, Shasberger knows there are many area residents who don’t realize what a resource the LCTA buses can be.
“We get a fair number of complaints here (at the YMCA) from people who don’t know where to park,” she said. “We do validate parking for two hours in the lot across the (West Northampton) street, but it would be wonderful if more people used the bus to get here,” she said. “The Y is a very walkable location.”
The LCTA’s Intermodal Transportation Center is only a few short blocks from the YMCA, she noted. And the number 22 bus actually stops right at the YMCA.