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July 8, 2004

Following Underground Railroad by Bike

Pitt’s Center for Minority Health (CMH) at the Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH) has signed a memorandum of understanding with Adventure Cycling Association, the nation’s premier bike-touring organization, to create an Underground Railroad bicycle route.

In addition to identifying the route and developing a set of maps describing it, the collaborators will provide the public with an assortment of history- and health-related activities related to the route, including Underground Railroad bicycle tours.

CMH and Adventure Cycling share the goal of encouraging people from all walks of life and cultural backgrounds, including African Americans, to explore the landscapes and history of America by bicycle. The organizations created this partnership in recognition of the capacity for bicycle travel to build stronger cross-cultural relationships among the nation’s citizens while promoting lifelong health through a form of physical activity available to people of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds.

“The challenge to eliminate racial and ethnic health disparities requires implementation of interventions that are scientifically sound and culturally appropriate,” said Stephen B. Thomas, CMH director and Philip Hallen Professor of Community Health and Social Justice at Pitt. By the year 2010, 30 percent of the U.S. adult population should be engaged in regular, moderate physical activity for at least 30 minutes per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention. In 1997, only 15 percent of the population had reached the goal.

Lack of physical activity is a risk factor in several leading causes of preventable illness and death such as diabetes and heart disease. While 20 percent of the U.S. population has diabetes, blacks are two to three times more likely to develop the disease compared to whites, according to the CDC.

Cycling organizations must increase their outreach efforts to minority communities, according to Thomas. “Throughout history black people have used bicycles as a mode of transportation. Today we must promote physical activity within the cultural context of African-American history, including the struggle to freedom from slavery. The Underground Railroad bicycle route demonstrates how to use cultural tailoring designed to get people moving,” said Thomas. “We are very excited about our partnership with Adventure Cycling and the contributions we can make together toward the elimination of racial and ethnic health disparities.”

Adventure Cycling, a nonprofit established in 1973, is America’s largest recreational cycling association, with over 41,000 members. Headquartered in Missoula, Montana, the association’s mission is to inspire people of all ages to travel by bicycle. The new Underground Railroad bicycle route will become part of the National Bicycle Route Network, which currently comprises 32,361 miles of mapped routes on scenic, historic back roads of America.

For information on this project, call Tom Robertson at 800/755-2453 ext. 227, send e-mail to, or visit

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