The Ten Toes Express

April 6, 2010

For three years, the Ten Toe Express Program has been helping St. Louis seniors become familiar with public transportation, stay active and see new areas of the city. It has been a success by any measure, with more than 6,100 participants since its inception.

Every Monday morning, Dan O’Connor waits in front of the southern-most Metro stop in St. Louis County for 30 to 40 seniors in walking shoes. He has been a volunteer walk leader with Citizens for Modern Transit since the public transportation advocacy organization first started the Ten Toe Express Program. His is just one of six walking groups that ride St. Louis’s bus and light rail system in order to get to walking routes around the city.

He and other experienced Metro riders help newcomers buy and validate their Metro tickets. This is some people’s first introduction to public transportation; for others, it is the first time they’ve used public transportation in decades.

O’Connor says, “I think meeting new people, mostly retired, and doing new things when you are retired are the biggest benefits for anybody who would want to do something like this.”

Participants talk about the enjoyment of getting out of the house, meeting other people and the history they learn while getting exercise. Pat Havelin, a walker with the Ten Toe Express puts it this way: “We get to see parts of the city we’ve never seen, and do it cheaply and safely.”

These benefits may be intangible from the perspective of a transportation engineer, but they are what makes the participants enjoy the walks; it is what makes them come back week after week.

Some of the more measurable benefits of the program include:

  • Increase in the use of public transportation – The survey that Citizens for Modern Transit gave to each participant before and after the program showed that after taking part in the program, participants are beginning to take public transit at a slightly higher rate than before they began the program.
  • Health benefits of walking – The survey showed a significant increase in the number of participants who incorporate walking into their daily routine after taking part in the program. The total number of minutes participants spent walking increased after the program was completed, while the amount of time spent in a car decreased.
  • Health benefits from using public transportation – Another study found that people who used public transportation for any reason were less likely to be sedentary or obese than adults who did not use public transportation.[1]
  • Education of participants – “Increasing ridership is an important goal for Metro,” according to Dianne Williams, director of communications for Metro Transit. “The Ten Toe Express program is a great community asset because it introduces people to transit that may have never tried it had it not been for this program. It introduces people to places they may have never visited. It also shows people how many places their transit system can take them.”

Replicating the Program

The Ten Toe Express is easy to replicate. In fact, walking programs that incorporate the use of public transportation have been popping up all over the country in the past seven years.  

Portland, Ore.

St. Louis is not the first city to offer the Ten Toe Express Program. In 2003, the city of Portland, Ore., expanded its escorted bike rides to include walks. This was the beginning of the Ten Toe Express. Portland’s Bureau of Transportation offers about 20 walks each summer. A crowd of 30 to 35 people join the walks to learn history and information about the area they are walking through. These walks are now led by Rich Cassidy, senior transportation planner for the Bureau of Transportation in the city of Portland. They have guest leaders, too, often people with historical expertise or knowledge of the neighborhood.

Based on Rich Cassidy’s experience, he offers the following advice for those interested in creating their own Ten Toe Express: 

  • Look for partners in your local health community. “Find an entity that is interested in increasing physical activity in your area, whether that is the city, the health department, or a health care provider. For Portland, it was sponsorship from Kaiser Permanente that made it possible to create walking maps and to provide the thousands of pedometers as an incentive to participants signing up for the program.” 
  • Offer an incentive. “Pedometers are one of the first easy ways to get people to pay attention to how active or inactive they are by getting them to count their steps.” 
  • Build upon new improvements made for pedestrians. “If a trail is built, use that as a launch of a walking program.”

St. Louis, Mo.

Tom Shrout, executive director at Citizens for Modern Transit, has traveled the country giving advice on running a citizens organization to support transit. Based on his years of experience with the Ten Toe Express in St. Louis, he has some suggestions for organizations that start their own program.

  • Take stock of the public transportation available in your city or town. Whether you have buses, light rail, subways, commuter rail or a ferry, this program can be adapted easily to your home town. Even if you only have a couple of bus lines, you could showcase the destinations available on those lines with walking routes.
  • Budget. “Citizens for Modern Transit launched the Ten Toe Express with a grant,” says Shrout, “but a lack of funding shouldn’t deter organizations from starting their own programs. We provided our participants with pedometers, a walking kit, printed maps and walking guides. These are nice to have, but not a requirement for starting the program.”
  • Enlist volunteers. “Our office staff is very small,” says Shrout. “We have multiple walk groups. It would be impossible for us to do it without volunteers. They’re critical to making the program successful.” Volunteer Dan O’Connor says he began to volunteer when the Ten Toe Express was just getting started, “because the combination of walking, city life and people appealed to me. As I got into it, I enjoyed the variety of people I met and the places we get to see. I think a volunteer has to be a people person and realize that this is a very diverse group of people. They’re not all power walkers.”
  • Use maps. Give participants ideas of places to go. CMT drew maps on Google Maps so they knew the walking distances involved. Also, says Shrout, “You can get an idea using Google Earth to figure out distances and the best walking path in your own city.” Walk leader Dan O’Connor has moved beyond the maps CMT provided, and now he selects his own routes. “As more people joined,” O’Connor says, “that gave me an impetus to find new places to go. Now it’s a challenge for me to find new places.”
  • Find somebody to collaborate with. It would be easy to collaborate with existing groups to form walk groups — for example, a parish, the local YMCA, the Sierra Club or the area AARP chapter.

CMT encourages other organizations to start their own walking program. Shrout tells organizations around the country to use the information on CMT’s Web site as a model. It has sign-up forms, survey information, walking maps and information on stretching, nutrition and walking safely.

Denver, Colo.

Kathleen Osher of Transit Alliance in Denver, Colo., is finalizing funding for a Ten Toe Express program similar to the one in St. Louis. “I contacted Tom Shrout because our organizations are similar,” she says. “We plan to build on their experience, but the program will be somewhat different. In addition to the walking tours, we want to use a buddy system approach to create a walking carpool. We would like to create a support network because it is not always easy to change how you commute when it is so easy to hop in the car and go.”

Transit Alliance is early in the process, but Osher has already learned a few lessons.

  • Build partnerships. “For us, one of the most important things is having as many partners as possible so that we get buy-in early in the process.”
  • Work with volunteers. “Having a volunteer group of passionate folks to rely on will make us successful.” 
  • Think strategically. “I think one of the most exciting pieces of this is that it ties together health, land use and transit. In terms of transit, it’s not about cars versus transit. It’s about choices and thinking strategically about how we move people efficiently.” 

The benefits of the Ten Toe Express can be enjoyed by people from all walks of life, in cities and towns all over the country. The program is inexpensive and easy to run, especially in collaboration with other groups. It can directly increase ridership and make users of public transportation feel less intimidated by an unfamiliar system and more likely to use public transportation. 

[1] Wener R and Evans G. “A Morning Stroll-Levels of Physical Activity in Car and Mass Transit Commuting.” Environment and Behavior, 39(1): 62–74, January 2007.