More on the conference I just attended, along with 7 other Vermonters.
Biking, walking making inroads into transportation debate
Published Sep 8, 2002 BLAK08
For years biking and walking enthusiasts have hammered away at the
establishment and insisted that precious transportation dollars be spent to
make biking and walking everyday transportation choices.
Because many of the bikers and walkers are trim, strong young people who do
not represent mainstream motorists, their views have often been marginalized
in transportation discussions.
But that is changing. As Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak put it last week at an
international biking and walking conference held in St. Paul: "It's time to
recognize that this is not a marginal conference. This is where we need to
go with our daily lives."
As proof of the growing clout of the cyclists and walkers, state
transportation Commissioner Elwyn Tinklenberg showed up to address them. He
told the 500 noticeably fit participants that the Minnesota Department of
Transportation recognizes bicycling and walking as transportation choices
and that bike and pedestrian needs will be considered in every highway
improvement project across Minnesota.
Likewise, Rybak and St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly pledged progress on bike and
pedestrian issues. Rybak promised that his city's 79 miles of bikeways will
grow to 120 in the next five years, and Kelly announced that St. Paul will
expand bike ways and join HealthPartners in a program to make pedometers
available to walkers.
"We all need to realize that driving is not the best choice for every trip
every day," Kelly said.
Health advocates also have figured out that bikers and walkers are onto
something. They have become a powerful new ally for the bike-walk movement,
lending it new energy and legitimacy.
Kate Kraft, an officer of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, spoke at the
conference. Her foundation is leading a national effort -- called Active
Living by Design -- to advocate healthier lifestyles by encouraging
communities to make it easier for people to integrate physical activity into
their daily routines.
We all know that exercise is good for us, Kraft said, but only about 25
percent of the population exercises regularly. "We need to reengineer
activity back into our lives; reengineer for active living, for 10,000 steps
The U.S. Surgeon General has recommended that people take 10,000 steps a day
for active living, and last week the Institute of Medicine, which advises
the federal government on health issues, recommended that people exercise 60
minutes a day.
To get people moving what's needed are city designs that are not just
pedestrian friendly but pedestrian seductive, Kraft said.
It's hard to dismiss health professionals with their white coats and their
M.D.s, and that has given the bike-walk movement a huge boost, said Bill
Wilkinson, executive director of the National Center for Bicycling and
Walking, which sponsored the conference.
The agenda common to both groups is underscored by statistics sighted at the
• 300,000 premature deaths a year are linked to inactivity and obesity.
• About 25 percent of all trips made in the United States are one mile or
less, and most are made by car.
• Only about 10 percent of kids walk to school, and juvenile obesity and
diabetes are rising.
• Federal spending on pedestrian facilities is 55 cents per person compared
with $72 per person on roads.
These statistics build a mainstream case for giving people the choice to
walk and bike, especially for short trips, Wilkinson said.
"Rethinking our love affair with the automobile is not a popular thing to
do. But the air quality keeps on getting worse. There is a lot of tension
over how dependent we are on foreign oil. We have kids who are obese because
they are driven everyplace," he said. "It may be that driving everyplace
isn't such a good idea."
Let us have a moment of silence for all Americans who are now
stuck in traffic on their way to a health club to ride a stationary bicycle
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