The evidence is all around. Streets designed solely to move
as much traffic as possible as fast as possible. Sidewalks
and crosswalks missing in action. Families marooned in
sprawling subdivisions miles from most destinations.
Everybody totally dependent on their car to get around.
Times are changing, though. More and more people want
to live where they can walk to stores, cafes, schools and
work — or at least to a transit stop. They want to reduce
their reliance on cars, live more sustainably and enjoy the
perks of a vibrant and connected neighborhood.
Bottom line: They want to use their feet for transportation.
While market forces alone are enough to give walkability greater weight in transportation planning decisions,
walkability has become more than a consumer preference. With the surgeon general’s call to action, it’s now
a formal public health strategy for reducing healthcare
costs and helping people live longer and healthier lives.
The beauty of walking as transportation is it requires no
special skill, equipment or license, costs nothing and
almost everyone can do it.
What matters most, though, is the health benefits it delivers. A brisk daily walk can provide the 150 minutes of
moderate aerobic exercise per week recommended by the
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to protect against everything from heart disease to depression
to some cancers.
“Walking has proven to be the best form of exercise
there is for long-term health benefits (because) it’s some-
thing you can do throughout your life,” says Shawn
McIntosh, program manager with the American Public
Health Association. “Studies have shown that walking
even 20 or 30 minutes a day can make a big difference.”
Nashville, Tenn., provides a blueprint for folding health
and walkability into transportation planning.
Tennessee has one of the highest obesity rates in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC),
and its residents are among the least physically active of
any state. In 2009, the agency that allocates federal dollars for roads, bridges and other transportation projects
to cities and counties in the Nashville region revised its
scoring system to favor projects that support active transportation — walking, biking, transit — and produce other
positive health outcomes.
“We stopped thinking first about how to move cars up and
down the corridor as fast as possible and started thinking
about how to connect people to places in ways that would
improve health,” says Leslie Meehan, former director of
healthy communities for the Nashville Area Metropolitan
Planning Organization (NAMPO). “That shift ... really
moved the needle.”
Under the old scoring system, only 2 percent of the projects in Nashville’s regional transportation plan included
active transportation components such as sidewalks or
bike lanes. After the new scoring system was introduced,
nearly 70 percent supported active transportation in one
way or another.
The NAMPO has since placed even greater weight on
improving health — 80 points out of 100 versus 60
out of 100 — and is factoring in results from a landmark health and transportation survey the agency
co-sponsored in 2012.
Photo by Gary Howe Photo by Gary Howe