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Surgeon General calls for walkable communities

Marc Lefkowitz  |  04/24/13 @ 2:00pm  |  Posted in Walking

Imagine if living in America meant walking every day was an easy choice.

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin insists it should be. She will issue a rare Call to Action—similar to the smoking warning—that calls on communities to make walking easy and "joyful."

Like Italians with their evening passeggiata.

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Dr. Benjamin’s Walking Revolution is a personal call to action, but it also touches on the need for a community design conversation in America where the suburbs are often unattractive or sometimes even unsafe places to walk.

More than 100 organizations, ranging from the National PTA to the American Lung Association to AARP to NAACP to Nike, are pushing everyone to walk more; and to boost policies, practices, and investments that will make communities everywhere more walkable.

Getting Americans to get out of their cars and walking can happen. We need more examples of communities with close-knit, everyday activities—schools, ice cream shops, parks, farmer's markets, and concert clubs—within half a mile of where people live. Walking is the web that being closer to a social support network weaves. It improves the art of everyday life.

It's not too late to find this walking urge in America. With all the romance and money spent on car design and mono-purpose roads, there's an emerging school of thought devoted to city and suburban retrofits toward all-access streets and traditional town centers. The good news is America's not too far gone from its traditional neighborhood development roots to get back some of what it lost.

Jay Walljasper, former Utne editor, writes that Americans “already walk more than many people realize,” accounting for 11 percent of daily transportation trips nationally according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Data from the Federal Highway Administration’s 2009 National Household Survey show Americans walk in surprisingly large numbers to work (35 percent), shops (40 percent) and school or church (46 percent) when these places are a mile or less from home.

Six in ten Americans report taking a walk in the past week according to a recent publication from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet 52 percent of us still don’t get the recommended minimum of physical activity: 30 minutes a day five times a week (60 minutes for kids).

Walking is on the rise. Americans are walking six percent more on average than we did in 2005. Also, young people show a preference for walking. Federal Highway Administration research shows that vehicle miles traveled by drivers under 30 dropped from 21 percent of the total in 1995 to 14 percent by 2009 — an unprecedented 33 percent reduction that marks a cultural shift by the emerging Millennial Generation. And the launch of a new walking movement offers promise for substantially increasing Americans’ physical activity.

Walking for as little as 30 minutes a day achieves significant health benefits, the Centers for Disease Control affirms. But the benefits of walking don’t stop at health. More people walking leads to safer hometowns, better student performance in school, a stronger sense of neighborliness, increased economic activity at local businesses and improved social equity among all Americans, notes Tyler Norris, Vice President of the large non-profit health care provider Kaiser Permanente.

Our country's low rate of physical activity compared to other nations is not just laziness, Walljasper concludes. To get Americans back on their feet we need to make the movement once again a natural part of daily life. This calls for a close look at how people are either encouraged or discouraged from walking to work, schools, shops, parks and other destinations in our communities.

A Walking Summit is planned for October 1-3 in Washington, DC (more details soon available at EverybodyWalk.org)

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Considering the Heights
7 years ago

Yes, that's what I'm saying. Also, does it account for a transit line inducing walkability and obliterating the need to drive (e.g., the difference between living in a highly rated area of Lakewood but still needing to drive to work or a park-n-ride because transit is too slow (#26 bus), too far to walk to (redline), or too infrequent in off hours (#55))? Also, does walkscore take into consideration that all transit access is not created equal? In other words, does it differentiate between proximity to a frequent, one-seat ride to shopping/employment centers and proximity to transit which is less frequent and requires multiple connections to get to shopping/employment centers. Also, many of the amenities that are shown as being close to an address are ones that people who care about walkability might not care about. (Great, I can walk to a McDonald's!) Is there anyway to select preferences on walkscore?

7 years ago

I agree, WalkScore seems to be built on a methodology of how many places can you walk to from point-to-point. It doesn't account for a transit line as a way of extending your walkability. You would only get a point for being close to a transit stop. It sounds like you're saying WalkScore needs to widen its view to include land-uses, transit access and even biking.

Considering the Heights
7 years ago

WalkScore seems severely flawed to me. For instance, how can so many addresses in Shaker Heights register on WalkScore as being "Car-Dependent" when they are within walking distance of the best commuter transit in the region? How is that not taken into account when determining walkability --- or, if taken into account, considered so lightly?

7 years ago

WalkScore has a new "heat map" feature where you can compare a region's more walkable areas with its less walkable communities. WalkScore also includes Transit Score to superimpose transit lines.

Considering the Heights
7 years ago

Is there any measure of a community's walkability as a whole (as opposed to the walkability of a single location provided by Walkscore)? For instance, how does Rocky River's walkability compare with the walkability of Shaker Heights?

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