How can a community support and encourage active transportation- like biking or walking- and make streets accessible to all?
The benefits of this are multifold, said experts at an active transportation summit in Rochester on May 23. The event featured planners, engineers and consultants who discussed the different aspects of how to build communities that promote active living.
Here are some takeaways:
Consultant and author Mark Fenton says we must build an environment that makes healthier behaviors automatic. Doing so will lead to healthier people, a healthier environment and a healthier economy, he says.
What's more, says Fenton, telling people to exercise isn't enough. Streets and communities have to be designed to encourage the behavior-and that takes buy-in from all sectors- permitting authorities, consumers, designers and residents.
What does a community that does this well look like?
There may be a good mix of parks, trails, a walk-friendly and bike-friendly downtown, traffic calming measures like curb extensions or raised crossings. Schools may encourage students to walk at least part of the way there by having a nearby location, like a church, for example, as a pickup and drop-off location.
The four elements of walkable and bikeable communities, says Fenton are:
* A mix of land uses (live, work, shop, play, learn, pray in close together).
* A connected network for pedestrian, bicycle, and transit use (sidewalks, trails, etc.)
* A site design that is inviting to activity (buildings at the sidewalks, trees, benches, etc.)
* Safety and access for users of all ages, abilities, incomes (lights, traffic calming, curb cuts)
Designing complete streets is an important component, says engineer Mike Rutkowski, who had participants in his seminar vote on how they would 'fix' certain scenarios like wide, busy roads full of heavy traffic.
The statistics, says Rutkowski, support building more pedestrian-friendly roads. From 2008 to 2017, pedestrian deaths increased 35.4 percent. At the same time, traffic deaths actually decreased six percent, while the number of pedestrians increased only about 1 percent. Nationwide, 1470 agencies, like cities, counties, etc., have adopted a complete streets policy.
The future of our communities, as always, lies in the hands of children. Which is why there is an effort to promote physical activity and bicycle safety from an early age.
Some schools are incorporating bicycle safety into their curriculum, and others are hosting bike to school days, with parent-led 'bike trains' for safety.