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Study: Transit Commuters Have Less Body Fat Than Those Who Drive to Work

Those who commute by car are piling on the pounds faster than people who ride bikes — and take transit — to work, according to a recent study published in the British Medical Journal.

Those who take transit to work in the UK have less body fat, according to a new study. Photo: ##http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:London.underground.arp.750pix.jpg##Wikimedia##

Those who take transit to work in the UK have less body fat, according to a new study. Photo: Wikimedia

The study looked at health and commuting data over time for about 7,500 people in the United Kingdom. When controlling for factors like income, level of activity at work, and age, researchers found that commuting by foot, bike, or public transit was “significantly associated” with lower obesity metrics.

This finding might not be all that surprising, but researchers say scientific evidence that active commuting helps maintain a healthy body weight has been scant. The study also found that transit riders had slightly better numbers than those who walked or rode bikes to work.

After adjusting for other factors, researchers found that men who used public transportation to get to work had about 1.5 percentage points less body fat than men who drove. For men who commuted by foot or bike, the advantage was 1.35 percent. For women, transit riders had about 2 percent lower body fat, and bike commuters had 1.4 percent less.

The results were similar for another important measure of obesity: body mass index. For men, active commuting and transit use were associated with a lower body mass index of about 1 point — that translates to 10 pounds for a man who is 5′ 10″ tall or a woman who is 5′ 5″. In women, active or transit commuting translated to about .75 points lower BMI.

“There are potentially large population-level health gains to be made by shifting to more active modes of travel,” researchers said.

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“Safe Routes” Goes Global With the Model School Zone Project

"Please give us a safe route to school." This picture of a 9-year-old girl in Vietnam helped catalyze street improvements. All photos courtesy of Safe Streets Worldwide

“Please give us a safe route to school.” This picture of a 9-year-old girl in Vietnam helped catalyze street improvements. All photos courtesy of Safe Kids Worldwide

This post is part of a series featuring stories and research that will be presented at the Pro-Walk/Pro-Bike/Pro-Place conference September 8-11 in Pittsburgh.

To get to Seoul Gumsan Elementary School in South Korea, students have to cross a heavily trafficked road with a blind curve. Between 2009 and 2010, 89 children were injured and one killed in 86 traffic crashes near the school.

Seoul Gumsan then had the good fortune to become part of the international Model School Zone program, which chose 10 schools in 10 countries to showcase how better infrastructure and education could help keep kids safe on their way to and from school.

To make Seoul Gumsan safer, Safe Kids Korea, in conjunction with Safe Kids Worldwide, painted a mural on the side of the school to clue drivers in to the fact that they were in a school zone. They also installed skid-proof pavement on the road, since they found that cars often skidded in wintry conditions. In conjunction with directional road signs and other traffic calming measures, the average vehicle speed near the school went down by nearly half, from 34 kilometers per hour (21 mph) to about 18 kph (11 mph).

Near the Seoul Gumsan Elementary School in South Korea, before and after Model School Zone street treatments.

Near the Seoul Gumsan Elementary School in South Korea, before and after Model School Zone street treatments.

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Houston’s Plan to Make “Bicycle Interstates” Out of Its Utility Network

The blue lines show trails planned as part of the Bayou Greenways system. Image: Utility Line Bike & Hike Trails

Rights-of-way controlled by the Houston utility company CenterPoint (the dotted lines) could combine with trails planned as part of the Bayou Greenways system (the blue lines) to create a grid of off-street biking and walking routes covering much of the city. Map: Utility Line Bike & Hike Trails

This post is part of a series featuring stories and research that will be presented at the Pro-Walk/Pro-Bike/Pro-Place conference September 8-11 in Pittsburgh.

Long lanes of grass alongside power lines are almost as ubiquitous in Houston as highways. There are roughly 500 miles of high-voltage utility rights-of-way criss-crossing the city, and they’re mostly just dead spaces, forming weedy barriers between neighborhoods.

What could the city do if it repurposed these underused spaces? Inspired by an article in Rice University’s Cite Magazine, Alyson Fletcher decided to write her master’s thesis at the Cornell University landscape architecture program on that question. She drafted a proposal to turn these linear, grassy areas into a “recreational super-highway” — and it’s starting to look like a real possibility.

In May, the city inked an agreement with CenterPoint Energy, owner of some 500 miles of utility rights-of-way across Houston. The agreement provides the city with free access to these spaces, some 140 of which are high-voltage lines with very tall towers and wide rights of way, which are well suited for trails.

For years, city and state leaders had struggled to overcome liability concerns on the part of the energy provider. Who would be responsible if someone was injured? CenterPoint didn’t want to be that party. So Texas lawmakers got together last year and passed a law resolving the liability issue for CenterPoint.

Designers at Rice University, the University of Houston, and SWA Design Group estimate the project could cost about $100 million to complete. Community activist Michael Skelly has been leading tours of the utility areas for people who want to learn more about the proposal.

Besides the low cost of land acquisition, the project has another important selling point: It complements the Bayou Greenways plan. As we reported last week, Houston plans to add 300 miles of trails and 4,000 acres of parkland along its 10 major natural bayous. But since most of the bayous are oriented east-west, the plan has limitations from a transportation standpoint.

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Getting Rural Kids Walking and Biking: A Case Study From Northeast Iowa

This post is part of a series featuring stories and research that will be presented at the Pro-Walk/Pro-Bike/Pro-Place conference September 8-11 in Pittsburgh.

Nationally, more than 14,000 schools have taken part in Safe Routes to School programs. Though dedicated federal funding was stripped out in the current transportation law, SRTS funds have helped improve sidewalks, crosswalks, bike lanes, and other infrastructure near schools, as well as education and enforcement. However, most SRTS projects are in urban and suburban settings. Rural areas have their own distinct challenges when it comes to walking and biking.

Six counties in Northeast Iowa benefit from an unprecedented push for Safe Routes to School. Image: ##http://uerpc.org/uploads/PDF_File_64511658.pdf##UERPC##

Six counties in Northeast Iowa participated in the push for Safe Routes to School. Photo: UERPC

One rural region is trying to overcome those challenges. Ashley Christensen, the regional SRTS liaison for a six-county area in northeastern Iowa known as Upper Explorerland, says that when the state DOT and the non-profit Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative started the region’s Safe Routes program in 2008, there was no information out there with guidance about how to build a SRTS program in a rural setting.

“We know no other region in Iowa had worked on one when we started and are pretty confident that statement holds true for the rest of the U.S., too,” Christensen told Streetsblog.

With distances between home and school far longer than in urban areas and safe walking infrastructure far less common, Upper Explorerland’s SRTS program had its work cut out for it. “Rural areas typically do not have the sidewalks, crosswalks, etc. that urban settings do, so SRTS work in a rural setting has the unique challenge — or opportunity, as I like to think of it — of utilizing what is available and advocating for more pedestrian accommodations,” Christensen said.

The Northeast Iowa schools do similar activities to other Safe Routes locations: walking school buses and bicycle trains chaperoned by parents; bike rodeos to teach bicycle safety and road skills. But they also use techniques that might not be needed in denser areas, like remote drop-offs. A remote drop-off functions like a park-and-ride, where parents meet in a parking lot and walk their kids the rest of the way to school. All told, the programs reach 10,000 students from 20 school districts and six private schools in a rural area the size of Connecticut.

While some of the schools in the Upper Explorerland SRTS jurisdiction are located in walkable communities, others are “located along major highways in the middle of a cornfield, miles away from the nearest community,” Christensen reports.

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Arizona Police Arrest “Jaywalking” Professor in Racially-Charged Incident

Arizona earned its reputation for police excess yet again recently when an officer demanded identification of an African-American pedestrian — for the crime of walking in a campus street to avoid construction on the sidewalk — and got violent when she refused to produce it.

Arizona State University professor Ersula Ore was walking around some construction on the Tempe college campus last month when an ASU police officer stopped her. Before she could even explain why she was walking in the street, he asked her for ID. When she bristled at the request, he threatened her with arrest. Before long, he had slammed her violently to the ground, her body exposed, and his hands in all the wrong places.

“The reason I’m talking to you right now is because you’re walking in the middle of the street,” Officer Stewart Ferrin told Ore when he stopped her. “That’s called obstruction of a public thoroughfare.”

“I’ve been here for over three years and everybody walks this street,” she replied. “Everybody’s been doing this because it’s all obstructed. That’s the reason why. But you stop me in the middle of street to pull me over and you ask me, ‘Do you know what this is? This is a street — ’”

“This is a street,” Ferrin interjects.

Then he demands that she put her hands behind her back, she demands that he take his hands off her, and trigger warnings start to fly.

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The Regions With the Most Potential to Build New Walkable Development

To get the economy humming again, America’s metro regions need to build more walkable places, according to a new report from a coalition of real estate developers.

The report from LOCUS [PDF], a group of developers and real estate investors who specialize in building walkable projects, examines which regions are seeing the fastest growth in walkable urban places, which the group calls “WalkUPs.” These places can be in cities or suburbs – political boundaries make little difference when it comes to walkability.

These 10 metro areas have the most potential for walkable development in the coming decades, the analysis finds. Image: LOCUS

These 10 metro areas have the most potential for walkable development, according to LOCUS.

WalkUPs account for just 1 percent of total land area in the 30 metros LOCUS examined, but they have captured 48 percent of new rental housing, retail, and hotel development since 2009, according to the study. Unlocking the potential of these areas is the key to getting the real estate market and, in turn, the American economy, back on track, LOCUS says. The group believes that in the next few decades WalkUPs could capture as much as 80 percent of new development.

By measuring the share of development that goes toward walkable places, as well as the price premium that type of development commands, LOCUS rated the potential for walkable growth in each region (right).

“What we’re seeing here is a trend that is a structural trend,” said Chris Leinberger, president of LOCUS and co-author of the study. “The last structural trend was in the 1940s when we left the central cities.”

But there are many obstacles to walkable development: zoning laws and car-oriented transportation infrastructure, to name a few major ones. And some places are doing a better job of capturing that growth.

“We think this is going to take at least 10 to 20 years to catch up with the trend,” said Leinberger.

Here’s what LOCUS learned from its examination of 558 WalkUPs in 30 metro areas.

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Talking Headways Podcast: Les Rues Are Made for Walking

Last week, Smart Growth America brought us the bad news: More than 47,000 people died while walking between 2003 and 2012. Most victims are killed on high-speed arterial roads. A disproportionate number are elderly or racial minorities.

Paris showed us a powerful solution: The city is lowering its default speed limit to 30 kilometers per hour, or about 18 mph. Speed limits are already set at that level on about a third of the city’s streets. That’s good policy, and one cities around the world should be following.

Meanwhile, the New York Times informed us that as the housing market recovers, the vast majority of new construction is made up of multi-family housing — a major shift from the over-production of single-family homes that lasted for decades.

In this episode, Jeff and I process all of that and more. Find holes in our analysis in the comments. And don’t miss an episode: Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher or by signing up for our RSS feed.

And lastly, our spring pledge drive ends on Sunday and we haven’t yet hit our goal of reaching 400 donors. Donate today! Your support makes this podcast happen!

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Congratulations to the Winners of the Showers & Snow Photo Contest!

Congratulations to Todd Consentino and Chris Chaney, winners of the Ortlieb Showers & Snow photo contest by the Alliance for Biking & Walking and Streetsblog.

We received over 100 photos of rainy, snowy biking and walking from dozens of photographers. Ten photos made it to the final round; of those, two were chosen by a (somewhat buggy) popular vote. Check them out below!

First prize winner: “Blizzard 2013” by Todd Consentino

Blizzard 2013 by Todd Consentino

This photo is from February 2013, when Boston had just been slammed with 24 inches of snow in 24 hours.

“Most of the roads by us were a mess and there weren’t many non-plow type vehicles on the road,” said Todd. “My five year old daughter wanted to go sledding. Our favorite sledding hill is only four miles away, so we rode our bike. It was awesome! Boston was peacefully quiet.”

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Deadline Extended! Vote for the Best Rainy/Snowy Picture

UPDATE: Well, this is embarrassing and a little maddening. We have been hacked through our hack-proof captcha coding. So, we’re shutting this sucker down and calling the winners based on voting as of May 10, when the hacking started. We will steer clear of Google polls in the future, and we sincerely apologize to everyone who voted and most especially to everyone who submitted photos. Winners will be announced tomorrow.

Last week, we brought you the best 10 pictures from our photo contest of biking and walking in the rain and snow. They were pretty beautiful, weren’t they? Well, unfortunately, someone got a little too enthusiastic about his or her favorite pictures and hacked the voting over the weekend.

We’ve made a more secure form for our Showers & Snow photo contest and are keeping voting open for a while longer.  The final winners will be decided by combining the pre-hack votes with votes cast between now and 5:00 PM on Wednesday, May 14.  It’s not a perfect system, we know, but it’s the most fair solution we could come up with.

The new deadline for voting will be 5:00 p.m. tomorrow, Wednesday, May 14. Winners will be announced the next day.

The two winners will win free sets of waterproof Ortlieb panniers and bike bags.

1. “Blizzard 2013,” by Todd Consentino:

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Talking Headways Podcast: A Deep Dive Into Biking and Walking Census Data

We were so excited about the first-ever Census report exclusively on biking and walking that we devoted this entire episode of the Talking Headways podcast to an interview with its author, Brian McKenzie.

Bike commuting is up 60 percent since 2000, the Census shows, and people with low incomes are by far the biggest proportion of the riding public.

People who bike and walk are hungry for reliable data. While government statistics on how much we drive are easy enough to come by, where would you go to find out how much we’re walking and biking? Strava? No. The Census is a better gauge of how active transportation patterns are shifting.

The Census data does have its limitations, and Brian talks candidly about those. But the data sheds light on who’s walking and biking for transportation, and how that’s changing in specific places.

Go on a dive deep with us. Here is a full half-hour just for you bike-ped dataheads. Enjoy. And talk to us in the comments.

PS: Talking Headways is available on iTunes or Stitcher or by signing up for our RSS feed.

PPS: Many thanks to those of you who have already donated to our spring pledge drive — especially those who specifically mentioned that you enjoy the podcast. Keep it coming!