Friday, October 22, 2010

Friday, October 15, 2010

Americans Walk Far Less Than Those in Other Countries

It should really come as no surprise that Americans walk far less than their counterparts in other countries, and now we have scientific data to support that claim. From the Reuters news account:

Adults in western Australia average 9,695 steps a day. The Swiss followed with 9,650, while the Japanese clocked in with 7,168 steps. But Americans straggled far behind with just 5,117 steps.
 "We were surprised that the levels of physical activity were that low," said Dr. David R. Bassett, of the University of Tennessee, the lead author of the study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.
"Five thousand steps is really pretty inactive," he added.

And while we may need to hit the gym more, the author suggests that the main culprit has to do with the lack of walking in our day-to-day environment.

Bassett thinks America's car culture and lack of adequate public transportation provide fertile ground for couch potatoes.
"People do have to exercise," he said. "But our overall environment does not lend itself to promoting an active lifestyle."
Indeed, there is a clear link between biking or walking to work, and positive health outcomes.

We can also see that cities that invest in rail transit tend to have an increase in walking. As Infrastucturist nicely summarizes:
  • All cities experienced a slight increase in commuter walking, at 1.8 percent
  • Cities without rail had a 2.7 percent decrease
  • Cities with rail but no major new rail investments saw a 1.7 percent increase
  • Cities with major new rail investments jumped 4.2 percent
 Just something to think about as our health care costs continue to skyrocket.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Forbes Thinks KC is Dangerous Because it Drives Too Much?

Forbes comes out with a lot of lists as a way of bringing attention to its publication in the wake of sagging revenues. Their most recent list is the Most Dangerous Cities in America, and to the ire of the local chamber of commerce, Kansas City ranks high on the list at number three.

Of course, it comes with this caveat.
“There are zones in safe cities that are way off the chart for crime rates, but when you average it across all of the city, it doesn’t look so bad,” says Bruce McIndoe, president of Maryland-Based iJet Intelligent Risk Systems, a risk-assessment firm.
 Which is of course true. If you live in Brookside, I'd say you're probably as safe as if you lived in Plano, Texas (the safest city in America!). In fact, if you lived in the great majority of Kansas City, you're generally safe. Crime, particularly violent crime, is very concentrated in this area. Six percent of the population in the zip code 64130 make up 20 percent of the murders and voluntary manslaughters in the city.

Another interesting point raised by a professor of mine relates to the factors they used.
We used FBI data on the number of violent crimes per 100,000 residents in 2009, and Department of Transportation data on the number of traffic fatalities per 100,000 residents in 2008 (the most recent available).
Notice anything about the list? They all tend to be car-centric metro areas. Sure Atlanta, St. Louis and Miami have light rail systems, but they are all still heavily dependent on automobiles. 

It is interesting that Forbes is telling us that what makes a city dangerous is not only the criminals that inhabit a city, but the careless drivers that populate a city, and I applaud them for including that as a criteria. Being a safer city is not just about reducing crime, its about reducing traffic fatalities as well.

Any new light rail campaign should make this part of the campaign - Make Kansas City Safer. Take these careless drivers off the road. Get fewer people driving.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

New Documentary About Commuter Rail Line in Overland Park

Commuter rail in Overland Park? Unthinkable! Well there used to be a well functioning commuter rail line called the Strang Line, running from 7th and Oak, through Westport, and on down to 80th and Santa Fe. The line stopped running in 1940, but there are still remnants of the line around Johnson County.

There is a new documentary about the history of the rail showing at the Rio Theater, with plans for KCPT to run the program in the future.

Its interesting that Overland Park was made possibly in large part because of commuter rail. As its suburbs, particularly inner-ring suburbs, became more working class, it will be interesting if commuter rail becomes once again a necessary lifeline to connect workers to jobs, or if it will continue to require its working population to invest in automobiles as a cost of living there. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

International Walk to School Day

Today is International Walk to School Day, and over five thousand schools across the country will participate in an effort to promote safer walking routes and more physical activity for children.

What should also be promoted however, is the fact that many of the areas around our schools are simply not safe. Simply putting up signs that warn of "Children Crossing, Slow Down" is not enough to slow down traffic and make an area safe for children to cross. A child was struck in Olathe this week, the third child struck by an automobile near a school this fall.

Cities and schools should be looking at better ways to slow down and reduce traffic around school buildings. Suburban schools tend to be located in exclusively residential areas. Cities should discourage the use of streets leading into schools to be used as main arterials. This may mean road diets (street thinning), reduced speed zones (all the time, not just during school hours), roundabouts, and stop signs. Instead of maximizing speed and efficiency on all roads, cities should begin thinking about moving traffic into certain corridors, while actually slowing down and reducing traffic in other areas where pedestrian traffic is likely.