By Guest Columnist SALLY FLOCKS, president and CEO of PEDS – an advocacy group for pedestrians
While waiting for a cab in front of a grocery store, I started up a conversation with an older woman who was about to get on a church van. I asked whether she got out of the house much on other days. She shook her head. “No,” she said. Crossing Peachtree Road to get to the bus stop was far too dangerous.
This is just one example of how streets designed for cars impact people’s quality of life.
Walking is a human right. As the Federal Highway Administration put it: “People have a right to cross streets safely, and transportation professionals have a responsibility to plan, design and install safe and convenient crossing facilities.”
Yet all too often, agencies haven’t put their money where their mouth is.
Chronic diseases are responsible for seven out of 10 deaths in the United States. So it’s no surprise that the public health community thinks of walking as medicine.
In September, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a “Call to Action on Walking and Walkable Communities.” Walking is one of the easiest, least expensive ways for people to start and maintain an active lifestyle.
More walking and more walkable places go hand-in-hand. If you don’t feel safe walking, you’re not going to do it.
The Surgeon General’s “Call to Action” is a great step toward transforming more of our communities into places where people want to walk. Investing in changes that make walking safe and enjoyable will enable us to enjoy healthier, longer lives.
Allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good is unacceptable. Even small improvements, such as installing raised median islands and curb ramps can have a very big impact.
Making our streets safe places to walk is especially important to Georgia’s older adults, who rank near the bottom nationally in health indicators. Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death here. And sadly, over one-third of people over 65 do not participate in any physical activity at all. Even small increases in walking will increase health dramatically.
Issues we hear about frequently – cost and technical expertise – are not the real barriers to creating safe sidewalks and crossing treatments. Georgia is investing $1.1 billion to build an enormous new interchange.
The real problem is political will.
What gets measured gets improved. Government agencies that promote the widening of roads often provide data on gasoline costs and wasted time for drivers stuck in traffic.
What we rarely hear about is the cost of injuries and fatalities. It all adds up:
* Hospital and recovery costs;
* Lost productivity of victims of traffic crashes; and
* Medical care for people with preventable chronic health conditions.
Together these costs far exceed the cost of traffic congestion.
If we want walkable communities, we can’t sit back and wait for them to happen. Every sector – and every one of us – has a role to play in increasing walking and making our communities walkable.
That includes numerous government agencies – transportation, public health and education. It also includes neighborhood associations, doctors, families and individuals.
All of us need to step up to the plate. By doing so, we can help people in the Atlanta region live longer, healthier lives.