Shaping Long Branch and EZ Ride: Impact, Success & Next Steps
When EZ Ride (one of 8 Transportation Management Associations (TMAs) in NJ) – Bike & Pedestrian team was awarded a Healthy Community Network grant from the NJ Department of Health (NJDOH) back in 2016, we decided to focus on promoting healthier eating and walking/biking to students via the Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program. We formed a coalition called Shaping Long Branch and local partners include the Office of Community & Economic Development, Health Department, Parks & Rec, Library, Senior Center, Police, Public School District, Monmouth Medical Center-RWJ Barnabas, Monmouth Family Health Center, Brazilian Help Center, & Family Success Center.
The coalition used partnerships, policy change and community education to change the situation over the past four years. We recruited a group of businesses who agreed to add fresh produce and healthier snacks to their stores and to champion healthy eating and preventive screening at events we planned. These partners initially included four cornerstores and beach huts and grew to include a Brazilian Meat market, another cornerstore, a barber shop and a beauty salon in these past two years. We worked with the City to pass an ordinance requiring the beach vendors offer healthy choices on the menu and we got the School District to pass a SRTS policy to promote walking and biking. Since 2016, EZ Ride has educated over 8,000 students at seven Long Branch schools about health and environmental benefits of walking and biking, provided safety and healthy eating tips and gave away over 1,000 bike helmets and other skill builders to promote active living. EZ Ride and the coalition held two walkability audits, and produced two School Travel Plan reports identifying needed streetscape improvements.
The City and coalition leveraged all the Safe Routes to School activities EZ Ride and the schools conducted: safety education, poster contests, walk/bike audits, travel tallies, school travel plan reports…and together we secured $230,000 of additional SRTS infrastructure funding to help the City make walking and biking safer. The District also parlayed SRTS activities into Sustainable Jersey grants to enrich their curriculum and equipment. EZ Ride held 30 plus events in the past two years with our partners: corner stores, barber shop and beauty salon and together we distributed hundreds of fresh fruit cups, free samples of healthier snacks/drinks, healthy recipes and health/nutrition information. Our healthcare partner, Monmouth Medical Center conducted 239 preventive health screenings at Shaping Long Branch events in the past 2 years as we shared the message that healthy food choices, routine exercise and preventive health measures are the keys to living well. The beach huts expanded their menu to include veggie burgers, berry & yogurt parfaits, kale, quinoa and chickpea bowls, fresh berry hibiscus tea and had great financial success. In 2017, 15% of their total sales came from healthy foods. That number doubled to 30% in 2018 and tripled to 45% of sales in 2019. It was so successful, our partners started a healthy food truck that now travels around Long Branch and often can be found at the train station!
The next step for the Shaping Long Branch coalition is to work on more policy, systems and environmental change. The City Health Department and all partners have agreed to sustain the coalition and this initiative in the future. We plan to require all City vending machines include 50% water and to install filtered water bottle filling stations in the parks and on the boardwalk. We will install mileage markers on the boardwalk and on park walking paths to promote more recreational walking for residents and visitors. We are assisting the Community That Cares network that recently began in Long Branch to form a network of partners to prevent substance abuse and mental health issues in youth.
We are very thankful to the NJ Healthy Community Network and our funder, the NJ Department of Health, for their support the past 4 years. We look forward to the future and continuing this good work for the benefit of the residents and City of Long Branch!
About the Grantee
EZ Ride is a non-profit, public-private partnership with a mission to implement transportation programs and services that enhance the quality of life, mobility, and economic opportunity for people and businesses, while reducing traffic congestion and improving air quality. The Bike & Pedestrian Programs team helps communities promote health, safety, walking and biking.