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Walking Picks Up Speed for Exercise and Transportation: 20 Tools and Signs of Progress

As life grows ever more challenging, with concerns about health and the future nagging at us, one solution can be as simple as taking a walk.

That’s the reassuring news from U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, who last year declared “physical activity is one of the best things Americans can do to improve their health and walking is an easy way to get moving” in his landmark Call to Action to Promote Walking and Walkable Communities.  He added that the benefits go beyond health. “It brings business districts to life and can help reduce air pollution.”

Noting that one out of two American adults suffers from a chronic disease like diabetes or heart disease and that walking reduces the risk of these conditions, Murthy initiated the Step It Up campaign to help Americans of all ages, races, income, regions and ability levels to walk more.

Murthy explained why he focuses on walking among many other forms of physical activity:

•It is already Americans’ favorite form of aerobic exercise.
•It is free.
•It does not require special skills, facilities or equipment.
•It can be done year-round, outdoors or indoors.
•People with disabilities can “walk” by rolling in wheelchairs.
•For busy people, a walk can often do double duty as transportation or social time with friends.

“Many of us live in neighborhoods that can present barriers to walking,” he acknowledged. “There may be no sidewalks; or there may be concerns about safety.” 

 “Physical activity should not be the privilege of the few,” Surgeon General Murthy added. “It should be the right of everyone.”

Signs of Progress and Advocacy Tools for Walking

Millions of Americans are now discovering that walking is good for our health, our social lives, our communities, our economic prospects and our overall happiness. Here are some of the recent signs:

1. A miracle drug. A September cover story on “The Exercise Cure” in Time magazine cited brisk walking, and even walking the dog, as the sort of “moderate intensity” workout that “works like a miracle drug”.

2. Walkable streets benefit everyone. Fast Company — a magazine renown for staying ahead of the curve on business trends — offered “50 Reasons Why Everyone Should Want More Walkable Streets.” Among their findings: “4) It makes people happier…...8) It makes neighborhoods more vital… …16) It boosts the economy…18) It makes people more creative and productive….”

3. More feet on the street. The number of Americans reporting they walk more now increased 14 percent in a 2012 USDOT survey of pedestrian behavior, compared to a 2002 survey.  This corroborates numerous local pedestrian counts documenting a rise in walking for transportation, recreation and exercise. Meanwhile the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) points to a six percent increase in the number of Americans walking between 2005 and 2010 (latest figures available). That adds up to 20 million more people on their feet.

4. The path to prosperity and social equity. The most walkable metropolitan areas in the US are also the most prosperous, with lower levels of social inequity than auto-dependent areas, says a new study by the George Washington University School of Business. Low-income people in walkable neighborhoods spend more on housing but benefit even more from lower transportation costs and better access to jobs.

 5. Lack of exercise almost as deadly as smoking. A groundbreaking study conducted over 50 years shows low levels of physical activity are more lethal than high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other closely-watched medical conditions. These findings affirm an earlier Cambridge University study showing that lack of exercise increased the risk of death twice as much as obesity.

6. Booming real estate trend. Eighty five percent of Americans report that living near places to walk was important to them, according to  the National Association of Realtors’ latest Community Preference and Transportation Survey. This is even more true for Millennials, who favor walking as transportation over driving by 12 percentage points.

7. Feel better — and better about yourself. Communities good for walking enjoy lower obesity, lower diabetes, and more people who feel good about their appearance, according to new data from the Gallup Healthways Well-Being Index.

8. Movement toward stopping climate change. Walking is incorporated into more than half of the recommendations in 50 Steps Toward Carbon-Free Transportation, a detailed report released in October by the Frontier Group. “America’s transportation system has emerged as Climate Enemy #1, with cars, trucks and other vehicles now representing the nation’s largest source of carbon pollution,” states the report.

9. Driverless cars can create pedestrian-filled streets. Many believe autonomous vehicles will transform modern life by turning huge tracts of land now used for parking into sidewalks, bikeways and public space. This will encourage people to walk more, using driverless cars primarily for longer or more complicated trips.

10. Walking means business. Firms in highly competitive fields like technology and marketing have discovered that top talent, especially young people, want to work and live in places a short walk from cafes and cultural attractions, says walking consultant Mark Fenton. Thomas Schmid of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adds that businesses also want to be in healthier, walkable communities because it decreases their health care premiums. He points to Chattanooga, where Volkswagen built a new plant, in part, because they were promised that a popular walk-bike trial would be extended to their campus

11. Walking means local business. Foot traffic is the lifeblood of most business districts, and improvements that make walking easier and safer pay off economically. A street in West Palm Beach, Florida plagued by speeding traffic was make more walk-friendly, resulting in less crime and $300 million in new private investment.

12. U.S. Department of Transportation champions safe streets. U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, former mayor of Charlotte, launched Safer People, Safer Streets “to help communities create safer, better connected bicycling and walking networks” in response to a steady rise since 2009 in pedestrians killed by motorists.

13. Federal Highway Administration pushes 80 percent cut in pedestrian deaths by 2031. An 80-percent reduction in all pedestrian deaths and serious injuries over the next 15 years is the new goal of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA in the agency’s recent Strategic Agenda for Pedestrian and Bicycle Transportation. On top of that, the agency is pushing to double the number of short trips (1 mile for pedestrians; 5 miles for bicyclists) taken by Americans by 2025.

14. Vision Zero movement hits the streets. Eighteen cities from Fort Lauderdale to Anchorage have formally pledged themselves to the Vision Zero goal of eliminating all traffic fatalities (foot, bike, car), according to the just-launched Vision Zero Network. Seventeen more are exploring the idea The movement is inspired by Sweden’s success in reducing road fatalities by 50 percent since 2000, thanks to improved street design and stepped up enforcement of speed limits. “We know that speed is the most critical factor in the severity of a traffic injury,” says Leah Shahum, founder and director of the Vision Zero Network.  “That means we must bring speeds down to safe levels.”

15. A growing movement to get us back on our feet. A wide coalition of advocates devoted to better health, social justice, a greener future and community vitality is spreading the word that walking is good for us and our communities. More than 500 people from 44 states participated in the 2015 National Walking Summit  in Washington, DC,  30 percent higher attendance than the first Summit in 2013.  The 2017 Summit is September 13-15 in St. Paul, MN, which will be hosted by America Walks and the Every Body Walk! Collaborative, and sponsored by the Kaiser Permanente health care system.

16. America’s walking renaissance. This new book showcases success stories from communities all over the country where walking is picking up speed, and offers practical tips on how you and your town can walk more. Here’s a free PDF download.

17. A college for walking. Fifty activists from across the US are applying lessons learned at the Walking College to improve health, equity and economic prospects in their hometowns. To apply for the Class of 2017 contact Ian Thomas, the Columbia, MO city council member who heads the college.

18. The case for healthy places. “Your zip code is an important factor to your health,” explains Tyler Norris, Kaiser Permanente Vice President for Total Health Partnerships, announcing a new report. documenting about how to make places healthier. Produced by Project for Public Spaces, “The Case for Healthy Places” will appear later this year and focuses on these key areas: 1) opportunities for social connection and support; 2) opportunities for play & active recreation; 3) access to green & natural places; 4) access to healthy food & beverages; 5) access to walking & biking; and 6) actions for healthcare institutions.

19. Walk audits: A tool to make better Streets. Blue Zone’s Walkable communities guru Dan Burden invented walk audits while he was Florida’s Bike and Pedestrian coordinator to help everyday people improve their communities. Here’s his list of five key things that make streets great places to walk:

Transparency—how appealing buildings and landscapes are to us on the street level;
Enclosure —trees, benches, street parking and other elements that buffer us from moving vehicles;
Complexity—many layers of things to see while strolling down a street;
Imageability—unique features of a place that make it memorable;
Human-scale—a place designed for people, not just cars.

20. First step toward reuniting a divided nation. The recent election spotlights how fractured America has become. Thankfully, walking offers a first step toward reconnecting to one another.  Sidewalks, streets, trails and other public spaces we travel on foot are common ground—literally.  They are among the few places where Americans of all backgrounds come together face-to-face, giving us the chance to smile, wave, talk, share and get to know someone different than ourselves. It is much harder to fear, hate, dismiss or ignore people you cross paths with every day.

Photo credit Dan Burden/Blue Zones

Jay Walljasper writes regularly about public health and healthy communities.  The former editor of Utne Reader, he is author of The Great Neighborhood Book. His website is JayWalljasper.com. Read all of Jay’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Solar Power Meets Electric Vehicle Atop a VW Microbus

VW Camper With Solar Panel

I always wanted an electric vehicle. Not because they are quiet, fast or fashionable, but because I can charge it off the sun! I built a golf cart with a panel on top and hauled wood for years with it. The electric chainsaw ran quite well off the 72-volt bank. What a workhorse! Just park it in the sun.

I realized that if I built a highway-legal vehicle with a good amount of solar on top, I would really have something valuable. I had no idea.

Sizing Solar Panels for Electric Vehicles

The time is here for solar power to make its way to our vehicles. The state-of-the-art panels pose no weight limitation. At 6 pounds per 150 watts, thin flexible solar panels will weigh 600 pounds but give you 15 kilowatts! This is enough to directly drive from the sun.

However, the surface area is a limitation, because that much solar would require 10 feet around the vehicle on all sides. The solution, ironically, is a mechanical engineering question of how to accordion-style fold these panels to conveniently open them for charging while the vehicle is at a standstill.

Considering Design Options for VW Bus Solar Conversion

My first rendition put 1,200 watts on top of the vehicle. I could easily hinge the array in the front of the vehicle for solar tracking. I made a convenient tent space under the array to mimic a VW Westphalia camper design.

Now the 1973 VW transporter is a camper! If I work it, tracking the sun all day, the 1,200-watt array will fill the 14 kilowatt-hour lead-acid battery bank for a 40-mile run. Not even trying around town, there is 20 miles of range waiting just from natural solar exposure — no plugs necessary. My family and I did 1,400 miles this summer using up the month of July. The viability is here!

Brett Belan lived off-grid in California for a decade before moving to Ashland, Oregon, and co-founding Apparent Energy, an engineering company dedicated to improving our electrical systems. He spends his free time building improving a converted 1973 Solar-Electric VW Bus. Follow Brett on Facebook and Instagram, and read his article in Home Power magazine.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

New York’s Hudson Valley Revs Up for Electric Vehicles with New Campaign

 

The first electric vehicle (EV) consumer education program in the Hudson Valley goes live this fall. For the growing population of consumers who are curious about EVs and want to learn more, Drive Electric Hudson Valley will provide consumer workshops, informational materials, and test drive opportunities throughout the fall.

A project of Sustainable Hudson Valley (SHV), Drive Electric HV is supported in part by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). It’s led by Seth Leitman, author and consumer advocate who reaches tens of thousands on social media and at special events as the Green Living Guy.

Leitman has worked for the New York Power Authority (NYPA) and NYSERDA on developing and implementing major marketing and infrastructure programs for electric vehicles. In addition, he test drives the greenest cars for reviews for other major publications regularly (including Mother Earth New).

Seth will partner with mechanical engineer and clean technology-bilingual outreach expert Hugo Jule to inform and inspire green living and technology enthusiasts throughout the Hudson Valley.

New York State Electric Vehicle Goal

SHV’s Executive Director Melissa Everett notes that “New York has made a commitment to getting 750,000 electric cars on the road by 2025. This program has been designed to close the gap between consumer curiosity and confidence, and create an opportunity for entire communities to climb the learning curve.”

Drive Electric Hudson Valley will offer a full schedule of workshops in community centers and at car dealerships, an informative website and experts available at outreach tables at commuter hubs such as train stations and Park & Rides.

In exchange for completing a simple survey on their knowledge and attitudes about electric vehicles, consumers will have an opportunity to test drive the cars and attend free workshops. Program Associate Hugo Jule, a bilingual energy educator with automotive, electrical and mechanical engineering background, will be raising the program’s profile by driving a demonstration VW e-Golf around the region.

 ‘Reforming the Energy Vision’ with Electric Vehicles

Drive Electric Hudson Valley supports Governor Cuomo’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) strategy to build a cleaner, more resilient and affordable energy system and helps New York State meet its goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030. The transportation sector is the State’s largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

“Local community actions like Drive Electric Hudson Valley are vital to Governor Cuomo’s energy vision for New York,” said John B. Rhodes, President and CEO, NYSERDA. “We congratulate Sustainable Hudson Valley and all its partners on this effort to educate consumers about electric vehicles, which reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help address the challenges of climate change.”

Drive Electric Hudson Valley is modeled on the successful three year Solarize Hudson Valley program, rolled out by Sustainable Hudson Valley in partnership with Catskill Mountainkeeper. Research shows that many of the same people who use solar panels, also purchase or lease electric vehicles.

According to Leitman, “When you combine solar and an EV at home, the economics become really compelling, and so do the environmental benefits. That’s because the car’s operating costs are so low and you can charge from your solar panels.”

“At our forums, we will tell the whole truth about EVs — the learning curve for the consumer, the economics, and their huge contribution to cleaner air which consumers may not recognize”, said Leitman. “Even factoring in the electricity it takes to charge it, the EV is still cleaner than any other gas car on the road. As the NY grid gets cleaner, expect those benefits to increase.”

EV Sales Growth and the Future of Electric Vehicles

Electric vehicle (including plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) sales are growing exponentially, from around 10,000 in 2010 to over 800,000 today. The U.S. is the world’s largest market, and trends point to sharpening growth.

For example, battery prices fell 35% last year alone. Bloomberg projects that by 2040, long-range electric cars will cost on average less than $22,000, and 35% of new cars worldwide will have a plug.

Still, consumers need education and confidence-building, said Everett. Drive Electric Hudson Valley will address that need. Find out more at Sustainable Hudson Valley, or contact Melissa Everett at 845-514-8567 or Seth Leitman at 914-703-0311.

The Green Living Guy, Seth Leitman is a green living expert, celebrity and Editor of the McGraw-Hill, TAB Green Guru Guides. Seth is also an author, radio host, reporter, writer and an environmental consultant on green living. The Green Living Guy writes about green living, green lighting, the green guru guides, and more. Find Seth on his website, and read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

How to Make City Streets More Friendly

Afoutayi Music and Dance Company performs in St. Paul, Minnesota. Photo by Jon Pavlica

Laughter, lively music and lip-smacking appreciation of food from many cultures animates St. Anthony Avenue in St. Paul, Minnesota as a crowd whoops it up at the Better Bridges Bash.

Even chilly temperatures and gusty winds can’t dampen folks’ enthusiasm — nor does the unpromising location right next to the roaring traffic on the I-94 freeway. Indeed, that’s the point of the event: to better connect neighborhoods on either side of the freeway by improving the bridges and to explore ways to make the area more friendly to people when they are not in cars.

This is why — in addition to enjoying a kazoo parade, a Liberian-American rapper and the Lexington-Hamline Community Band — festival goers wander into tents where they are encouraged to think expansively about their neighborhood’s future.

“We’re seeing that this community is engaged in how the streets feel, and they are letting local leaders know what they want,” offers Isaak Rooble, who is standing next to a gallery of photos showing possible improvement projects for this mixed-income, mixed-race community. People stick green post-its to ones they like, pink ones to those they don’t, and yellow for maybe.

Among the photos generating the most excitement are:

• A land bridge covering a section of the freeway with green space
• Archways, mosaics and murals at entrances to bridges over the freeway
• Medians in the middle of busy intersections making it easier for people to cross the street

Ideas for Better Streets and More Friendly Street Life

At another tent, people are invited to share their own brainstorms for the neighborhood on an idea tree. Here are a few of the brainstorms:

• “fewer cars”
• “fountains”
• “walking path and track”
• “more street parties”

“I am passionate about community development and helping migrants get involved with the community,” says Isaak Rooble, a young Somali immigrant working with Friendly Streets Initiative (FSI), the organization hosting the event.

FSI is conducting surveys with as many people as possible in English, Somali, and Oromo (a language spoken in parts of Ethiopia and Kenya) to learn more about issues in the neighborhoods surrounding the freeway. This is part of the organization’s “community-led mission,” which means “we are guided by the ideas coming out of neighborhoods,” explains Robyn Hendrix, an artist organizer with the group.

The Friendly Streets Initiative grew out of a group of volunteers working with various neighborhood organizations to make biking and walking safer in St. Paul. In the summer of 2011, they sponsored a series of parties along Charles Avenue which runs through a racially- and economically-mixed community a few blocks from the freeway to discuss community concerns. The group created a survey to measure residents’ opinions and offered a photo gallery of innovative street designs found around the world.

Closing off  blocks on Friday evenings, the parties featured food from local restaurants, games, and the opportunity for neighbors to get to know each other better.

“More than 700 people turned out and we got a real sense of what the community thought,” recalls Lars Christiansen, an urban sociologist at Augsburg College who lives in the neighborhood and is now FSI Director. “What they liked and what they didn’t.”

The ideas folks liked most became the nucleus of the Charles Avenue Friendly Street plan, which emphasized four street improvements:

1. Better-marked crosswalks at busy intersections;

2. Traffic circles, which help slow the speed of vehicles at low-volume intersections;

3. Medians and other modifications at busy intersections, which provide refuge for pedestrians and bicyclists crossing the street;

4. A raised intersection, and sidewalks bumping out into the streets at select locations.

Friendly Streets Initiative

The volunteer committee formally organized themselves as the Friendly Streets Initiative to build support for the Charles Avenue project among neighbors and on the city council. Construction on Charles Avenue began in 2014 along a four-mile stretch of the street.

“FSI built grassroots support for change in St. Paul, a city reputed to have lots of opposition to bike and walk projects,” observed Jessica Treat, director of Transit for Livable Communities in an interview earlier this year. Since then TLC has become FSI’s fiscal sponsor.

Treat credits FSI with mobilizing young families and other groups in the city who don’t usually weigh in on planning decisions, which showed political leaders the depth of public support for walk and bike projects.

Council Member Russ Stark, whose ward contains a section of the project, notes that FSI has changed how business is done in St. Paul.

“By talking to people where they live, by using block parties and other means to find out what people value on their streets, they’ve helped change how we do civic engagement. We usually hear from a vocal minority on projects, but we don’t necessarily know what the public as a whole thinks.”

Revitalizing Neighborhoods Afflicted by Poor Freeway Planning

One of FSI’s major pushes now is a project coming out of the Better Bridges Bash to create better bike, foot and transit access in neighborhoods on either side of the I-94 in between the Capitol and the Minneapolis city limits. This includes Rondo, the historical African-American neighborhood where photographer Gordon Parks and civil rights leader Roy Wilkins grew up, much of which was bulldozed in the 1960s to construct the freeway.

“It was a beloved community,” says Melvin Giles, FSI community organizer, who remembers Rondo as a young child. “People would walk to the neighborhood store and kids could see all the others kids. They’d play baseball and football in the street. You couldn’t do those things today.”

What was once Rondo is probably the worst place in St. Paul to walk today, with a freeway ripping through the middle of the area and bridges that feel dangerous and dispiriting to cross.

“They seemed not to care a lot about poor kids and African American kids getting to school, or anywhere else, when they built the freeway,” remarks Anne Parker, an artist working with FSI who has lived in the neighborhood for 26 years.

Conditions are grim on many of St. Paul’s I-94 bridges. Many walkers endure sidewalks so narrow that they must scrunch together to walk side-by-side, and switch to single-file if any other walker needs to pass.

Better Bridges Make Better Communities

 “A lot of outside groups who want to help the neighborhood just come in and start doing stuff—FSI did not do that,” says Melvin Giles, explaining why he joined the group. “As an organization we help the community decide what it wants by offering a process for people to think about what they want from their streets — and then we will work with them.”

Giles helped convene a series of listening sessions with elders and leaders in the African American community. “FSI is not doing things for us — it’s doing things with us,” he says. “It’s not just community engagement. FSI shows you how to turn your ideas into reality.”

One of the community leaders Giles contacted is Marvin Roger Anderson, a retired attorney and former Minnesota State law librarian. “Encouraging bicycling and walking are important to reweaving the Rondo neighborhood, so I am delighted to be working with Friendly Streets,” Anderson says. “Biking and walking are healthy. Biking and walking can save you money. We need to create a culture of biking and walking.”

The long-term goals of the project are to call on the community’s expertise and creativity to inspire fresh thinking about transforming these bridges from barriers into connectors between neighborhoods. Planned reconstruction of the freeway offers opportunities for big ideas that stir excitement in the community.

Ranking high among the ideas proposed: a land bridge, wider sidewalks and narrower car lanes, bike lanes, better winter maintenance, greater attention to disabled users, traffic calming, making it feel more like a public space, and adding a cultural wall to celebrate the history and art of the Rondo community.

In the short term, FSI wants to tap community expertise and creativity for ideas on improving existing bridges. “The whole point of FSI is to transform streets of fear into streets of joy, in ways both large and small, affecting the physical environment and the emotional one,” says Christiansen.

7 Lessons for Friendlier Streets

Here are the chief lesson’s of Friendly Streets Success, which can be applied in other communities around the country.

Rethink community engagement. It’s no longer good enough to simply present neighborhood people with a plan, and ask them to approve it. Residents are the world’s leading authorities on what their communities need. They must be involved in the planning of a project from the very start. Their ideas and goals must be given serious consideration every step of the way.

Show how new ideas work. Installing temporary prototypes of proposed improvements lets everyone get a feel for how well they work. It can dispel unwarranted fears and reveal potential problems.

Recognize how things are connected. Social, economic, cultural and psychological issues are all linked. A better sidewalk or walking trail can boost economic opportunity, racial inclusion and community aspirations as well as transportation. When you understand all that is at play with a given project, you’ll get more successful outcomes for everyone.

Take art seriously. Art is not a frill — it’s indispensible in helping everyone reimagine their communities, and discovering new approaches to old problems. “Asking people to draw or paint or act out what they would like to see in their neighborhood allows everyone to think differently and find new inspiration,” notes Robyn Hendrix, arts organizer for the Friendly Streets Initiative (FSI) from 2014 to 2016. “The arts activities brought kids and families out, and created a festival quality that also drew more low-income people and people of color,” adds FSI director Lars Christiansen.

Work with the community. Find out who are the leaders, which may not be who you expect. Learn about neighborhood concerns. Speak their language (literally and figuratively). Listen.

Be flexible. No community visioning method is universal. What works in one place may flounder just a few blocks away. Discover the tools the community itself uses.

Make it fun. “A feeling of festivity, levity and wonder enliven the conversations about public spaces,” concludes Christiansen. “You need a sense of play in everything you do.” FSI events have included mini-golf, living statues, chalk drawing, flag-making and lots of music and food.

This is excerpted from the new book, America’s Walking Renaissance, which can downloaded free as a PDF.

Jay Walljasper writes regularly about public health and healthy communities.  The former editor of Utne Reader, he is author of The Great Neighborhood Book. His website is JayWalljasper.com. Read all of Jay’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Walking Makes Strides in All Kinds of Communities

Pedestrians Walking In Seattle Streets

Imagine living in one of America’s great walkable communities.

Your day begins with a stroll — saying hi to neighbors, noticing blooming gardens and enticing shop windows, maybe stopping for a treat on your way to work.

Weekends are even better. You step out your door and join the hum of activity on the sidewalk en route to a coffeeshop, park, shopping district, friend’s home, recreation center or house of worship.

More time on your feet provides an opportunity to reflect on your life (you feel more energetic and creative now that you’re not driving all the time) and your community (it feels more alive now that everyone walks more). Even driving is more fun than it used to be with fewer cars clogging the streets.

And the really good news is that you don’t need to move to another town or a more expensive neighborhood to enjoy these pleasures. Any community can become more walkable if people are willing to get off the couch to make a difference.

That’s what my colleagues and I at the Every Body Walk! Collaborative  and America Walks discovered researching our new book America’s Walking Renaissance, which can be downloaded here for free.

Feet on the Street, Coast to Coast

We found inspiring stories from places across the U.S. where people got things started in communities not so different from where you live.

•In Baldwin Park, a racially diverse suburb of LA, high levels of childhood obesity are dropping as the result of a community-wide effort to make walking more safe and comfortable.

•In Batesville, Arkansas, and Albert Lea, Minnesota, improvements to boost walking around town are paying off in new residents, businesses and hope for the future.

•In Birmingham, a growing network of walking trails helps address problems arising from decades of economic decline, racial inequity and declining public health.

•In Arlington, Virginia, an innovative plan to transform neighborhoods into foot-friendly villages made it America’s Most Walkable Suburb.

•In Phoenix, ambitious programs to encourage walking are part of a push to become America’s healthiest city.

• In St. Paul, a multicultural community torn apart by freeway construction seeks revival and healing through better pedestrian connections.

• In San Francisco and New York, neighbors are teaming up with public leaders to end all traffic deaths on city streets.

• In Northeast Iowa, small town kids are growing excited about walking to and at school.

• In Seattle, groundbreaking policies curb speeding motorists and prevent traffic crashes.

• In African-American communities coast-to-coast, GirlTrek encourages women to take charge of their health by walking regularly.

• In California’s Central Valley, Latino parents are organizing campaigns to make streets hospitable for people on foot.

• In Indianapolis, leaders from around the world study the Cultural Trail, a 21st-Century walk-and-bike corridor that has reinvigorated struggling business districts.

•In Greater Philadelphia, a network of bike/walk trails link the entire region — 300 miles so far with 450 more planned.

• Even in Oklahoma City, once named America’s “Worst Walking City,” big plans are working to make walking easier, less dangerous and more fun.

Why is Walking Suddenly Popular?

Improvements like these are popping up all over because Americans want to get back on their feet — for better health, stronger communities and happier, more relaxing lives.

The Federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) found the number of people who regularly walk rose 6 percent between 2005 and 2010 (latest figures available), a jump which translates into 20 million Americans stepping up.

But we still have a long ways to go. Only 48 percent of adults met the CDC’s minimum daily recommendation for walking or other physical activity: 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week (60 minutes daily for kids).

That’s the magic number that cuts your chances of suffering from depression, dementia, diabetes, colon cancer, heart disease, anxiety, high blood pressure, and other serious diseases by 40 percent or more.

The American Heart Association lauds walking as the exercise people stick with the most over time. It’s free, requires no special equipment, and can be done anytime, usually right out your front door.

Last year, U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek H. Murthy, singled out walking as a powerful health solution in his landmark Call to Action to Promote Walking and Walkable Communities.

“Walking is a simple, effective and affordable way to build physical activity into our lives,” Murthy declared. “The key is to get started because even a small first effort can make a big difference in improving the personal health of an individual and the public health of the nation.”

Health Benefits of Walking

The rise in walking for recreation, transportation and exercise is also being fueled by new research showing it’s good for us in many ways besides better health:

•Going out for a walk is one of the best ways to meet people and strengthen community connections, which is fun but also boosts our mental and physical health.

•Kids who walk to school do better in their classes, according to Mary Pat King, the National PTA’s Director of Programs and Partnerships. Walking improves students’ concentration, mood, cognitive performance and creativity, explains Dr. Richard Jackson, former Environmental Health Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

•Metropolitan regions with many walkable neighborhoods perform better economically than those with just a few, according to a new report from the George Washington University School of Business.

•Reduced anger, increased self-control and a greater sense of well-being are other documented benefits of walking, according to 100 Reasons to Walk, issued by Walk with a Doc, an organization of physicians working in 29 states.

Signs of the Times

You don’t have to look far to see signs that Americans are rediscovering the joy of walking.

Real Simple magazine declared it “America’s untrendiest trend” in a cover story.

•Soul singer Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” video, which highlights the sheer pleasure of strolling down the street, has been watched 850 million times.

•A recent national poll from the National Association of Realtors finds that 79 percent of Americans believe it’s important to live “within an easy walk” of the places they want to go.

•Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx has announced an all-out effort to make walking safer in communities everywhere. “Bicycling and walking are as important as any other form of transportation,” he declared at a major transportation conference.

•More than 10 percent of all trips in America are on foot, according to Paul Heberling, Policy Analyst at the US Department of Transportation — and 28 percent of all trips under a mile.

Everybody Has a Right to Walk

“The health benefits of walking are so overwhelming that to deny access to that is a violation of fundamental human rights,” declared Dr. Robert D. Bullard, father of the environmental justice movement in a keynote speech at the National Walking Summit in Washington, D.C.

“All communities should have a right to a safe, sustainable, healthy, just, walkable community.”

Yet it is a stark fact that children, older Americans, the poor, people of color, and people with disabilities are injured or killed more frequently while walking (or rolling, in the case of people using wheelchairs or motorized carts).

• People walking in the poorest one-third of urban census tracts are twice as likely to be killed by cars.

• African Americans are 60 percent more likely to be killed by cars while walking, and Latinos 43 percent.

• The pedestrian fatality rate rises significantly for people 45 and over, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Many disadvantaged people now think twice before traveling on foot due to dangerous traffic, crumbling sidewalks, street crime, poor lighting, or the lack of stores and public places within walking distance.

Poor conditions for walking among low-income households limit their access to jobs and education. One-third of all African Americans and one-quarter of all Latinos live without access to a car, according to a report by the Leadership Conference Education Fund, which means walking and public transit (which involves a walk) represent important pathways to opportunity.

“A big thing we could do to help low-income families is to make it easier to live without a car. And it would help middle-class families to switch from two cars to one,” says Gil Penalosa, founder of 880 Cities and an immigrant from Colombia. He notes that the average cost of owning and operating one car is about $8,500 a year, even taking into account recent dips is gasoline prices.

The good news is that the right to walk is becoming a major issue, as advocates for social justice, public health, neighborhood revitalization and other causes push for policies to make walking safer and easier in communities all across America. In fact, Secretary of Transportation Foxx, the former mayor of Charlotte, has made it one of his top priorities with the Safer People, Safer Streets initiative.

Adapted from the book America’s Walking Renaissance, which can be downloaded for free.

Jay Walljasper, author of the Great Neighborhood Book, writes, speaks and consuslts about how to create healthier, happier communities.  He lives in Minneapolis and his website is JayWalljasper.com. Read all of Jay’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

7 Ways to Travel with a Green Conscience

Travel Green Mother Earth News 

As a travel addict, I love discovering new cultures and adventuring through foreign landscapes. But as an environmentalist, I struggle with my carbon footprint while wayfaring around the world. Is there a way to travel with a “green” conscience?

Travel is a form of consumption, from jet fuel to trash. It’s up to you to determine how much waste you will produce on your voyage. For me, seeing the world has been an education on the environment and the challenges we face. Witnessing other cultures has inspired me to reduce my carbon footprint. Ironically, travel has made me “greener.”

In this article, I’ve listed a seven ways you can reduce your impact on the earth. Implement these easy tricks on your next getaway to travel with a “green” conscience.

1. Carry a water bottle with a built-in filter.

In many foreign countries, you cannot drink the tap water. Instead of purchasing dozens of bottles of water throughout your trip, bring a refillable water bottle with a built in filter. My bottle clips right onto my backpack and has saved me from contributing to landfills in several countries where recycling is not common practice.

2. Be aware of food packaging and waste.

Wasting food in some countries around the world is a sin, so never order more than you can eat. I try to order small plates, or appetizers, when eating out at restaurants to reduce my food waste.

As for packaging, to-go containers are made of Styrofoam, paper or plastic bags, which almost always end up in the garbage. Be conscious of your purchases. Street vendors sometimes offer delicious finger food, such as kabobs, which have little to no food packaging. Pack your own silverware. Refuse a straw in your drink. Every little bit helps.

3. Use a wash bag and hang-dry your clothes.

Laundry machines use a lot of electricity and water. I carry the Scrubba Wash Bag when I’m backpacking. It allows me to wash my clothes with minimal water and takes only a few minutes per load. I hang dry my clothes using this packable clothesline. My travel clothes are also quick-dry fabrics or wool, so they dry quickly.

4. Take public transport or carpool.

Public buses or trains are an eco-friendly option for getting around your destination. Many youth hostels have carpool sing-ups for popular trips, which is an exciting way to meet fellow travelers. On my first day in a new city, I get a map and start walking! Exploring on foot is great exercise and offers excellent people watching opportunities.

Backpacking By Train 

5. Be a part of the solution, not the problem.

As I backpacked through Thailand recently, I noticed that the majority of the trash littered on the beaches and in the streets was from tourists. It disgusted me. Why would you come all this way to see a beautiful beach, only to destroy it?

I began picking up litter when I saw it and disposing of it properly. When I go on a hike and see trash on the trail, I pick it up. A great way to be eco-friendly while on vacation is to spend an afternoon carrying a bio-degradable trash bag and picking up litter. You can help compensate for others by going the extra mile!

6. Turn off the air conditioning.

In many countries, only the rich have access to air conditioning. Challenge yourself to live like the locals. Book the train car without air conditioning. Stay in the bungalow that only has a fan. By skipping out on luxury, doors can open. You may have never taken that amazing cooking class unless you were willing to compromise your comfort-zone. It can be a blessing in disguise.

7. Consider the sustainability of the ecosystem.

Is tourism destroying the local land? In order to accommodate visitors, destinations will go to great lengths without considering the sustainability of their practices. A local delicacy may have been sustainable once, but when thousands of tourists decide to try it, that species could be in danger.

Before traveling to a new country, do your research. Are the waters overfished? Do they import their meat from another country? How much meat, fish, grain does they average local eat? How much water, gas, electricity does the average local use? This information can help you make educated discussions on your consumption.

As a green conscience traveler, you should strive to waste less and reuse more than the average tourist. Be aware of your impact. Challenge yourself. Do your research. Being eco-friendly will enhance your adventure.

Finally, allow yourself to be educated by your travels. Enhancing your eco-awareness will make you a better consumer at home and on vacation!

Women Standing With Asian Elephant 

Photos by Guillaume Dutilh 

In an effort to pursue an alternative nomadic lifestyle, Jenna Spesard built a tiny house on wheels and hit the road. Within the first year, her tiny house traveled over 20,000 miles around North America and Canada. Read about her travels at TinyHouseGiantJourney.com and follow her tiny house on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. Read all of Jenna's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

‘Worst Walking City’ in U.S. Gets Back on its Feet

Cicyling In Oklahoma City

Part of Oklahoma City's growing trail network.

The U.S. gave up on walking in the mid-20th Century — at least planners and politicians did. People on foot were virtually banished from newly constructed neighborhoods. Experts assured us that cars and buses (and eventually helicopters and jet packs) would efficiently take us everywhere we wanted to go.

Walking is Up in the U.S.

Thankfully, most Americans refused to stop walking. Today — even after 70 years of auto-centered transportation policies — more than 10 percent of all trips are on foot, according to Paul Herberling of the U.S. Department of Transportation. That number rises to 28 percent for trips under one mile.

Indeed, we are in the midst of a walking renaissance as millions of people discover a daily stroll can prevent disease, boost energy, ease stress, connect us with our communities, and is just plain fun. The number of us who regularly take a walk has risen six percent in the last decade, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to a new study from the National Association of Realtors, 79 percent of Americans — even higher for those under 35 — want to live in a place that’s walkable. Walking’s popularity is now reaching beyond older city neighborhoods into suburbs and the Sun Belt.

Oklahoma City Struggles with Obesity

Even Oklahoma City — which was named as the “worst US walking city” in a 2008 study of 500 communities by Prevention magazine and the American Podiatric Medical Association — is embarking on big plans to become more walkable.

“Bleak” is how Jeff Speck, urban planner and author of Walkable City, describes walking in Oklahoma City seven years ago. “Traffic sped too fast…for pedestrians to feel comfortable on the sidewalks...oversized traffic lanes encouraged highway speeds,” he wrote in Planning magazine.

Oklahoma City also suffered from perhaps the worst sidewalk network in America. Most other towns conscientiously built sidewalks until the 1950s, but Oklahoma City abandoned the effort as early as the 1930s in some neighborhoods.

Mick Cornett, the city’s Republican mayor since 2004, notes, “We had built an incredible quality of life, if you happened to be a car. But if you were a person, you were seemingly combating the car all day.”

“We probably were last in the country for walking,” Cornett admits.

This rock-bottom rating really stung in a community that had earlier been passed over by United Airlines as the site for a new maintenance facility because, despite the city’s generous financial incentives, the company’s CEO said he couldn’t imagine asking his managers to move to Oklahoma City.

Then, a year after the walk rankings, the city again found itself in the harsh glare of unwanted media attention. This time Men’s Fitness magazine stigmatized Oklahoma City as the “#2 fattest city” in America. Among the country’s 100 largest cities, only Miami was more corpulent.

That’s all changing now. An ambitious $18-million sidewalk-improvement fund was approved by voters as part of a tax increase that also included money for parks, transit, bike trails and senior wellness centers around town. Four busy streets heading into downtown are now being narrowed, with new “smart intersections” that provide walkers more safety with “refuge island” medians in the middle of streets and clearly marked crosswalks.

So what’s driving all this pedestrian progress?

Mayor Cornett, a former sportscaster, bristled at his city being called fat and sedentary. Yet he knew that he couldn’t credibly deny these charges since he’d gained enough extra pounds while in office to be labeled obese, thanks to endless rounds of breakfast and lunch meetings.

OKC Gets Back on Its Feet

Cornett launched an initiative to get the city back in shape. Over the past seven years, he notes, Oklahoma City has added hundreds of miles of new sidewalks, built 8 miles of bike lanes on the streets (there were none in 2008), added 100 more miles to the recreational trail network, built new gyms at many public schools, created a public rowing center and started work on an whitewater kayak and rafting course on the Oklahoma River. Low-income neighborhoods, where health and obesity issues are most severe, are the biggest focus of the city’s programs for healthy eating and active living.

Cornett also issued a successful Challenge for Oklahoma City residents to lose one million pounds. Over 47,000 people signed up, and lost on average 20 pounds. Cornett himself shed 38.

Mayor Cornett Oklahoma City Walks

Mayor Mick Cornett (left) inaugurates a new sidewalk in Oklahoma City.

One major thrust of this campaign was working with fast food restaurants to offer healthier menus. Cornett is proud of this partnership and during our interview slipped into his office closet to fetch a life-sized cardboard cut-out of himself posing with Taco Bell’s low-fat options, which was displayed in the chain’s 40 Oklahoma City restaurants.

This all seems to be making a difference — the growth in Oklahoma City’s obesity rate has slowed significantly from six percent annually to one percent, with the stage set for reductions in the future.

The mayor is quick to share credit. First and foremost, he applauds local citizens, who in 2010 voted to continue a one-cent addition to the sales tax for seven more years to pay for health initiatives. Oklahoma, he points out, is a very conservative state — the only one where Obama did not carry a single county in either 2008 or 2012.

Yet, Oklahomans are willing to support taxes when they know where their money is going. “They like projects where they can see the results,” he points out. “And this is not debt and it’s not a permanent tax — it’s up for renewal every few years.”

Revitalization Spending Yields Big Returns

Cornett views this spending as a smart business move, noting that the 2010 tax referendum, and two earlier ones under previous mayors focusing on downtown revitalization, public education and overall quality of life, amassed $2 billion in public investment which in turn spawned $6 billion more in private development.

“Ever since we decided to make this a great place for people to live, the jobs started coming here and young Millennials, who want to bike and walk, are arriving in numbers we’ve never seen before,” he says. “We are creating a city where your kids and grandkids will choose to stay. They used to go to Dallas or Houston.”

“It turned out that one thing people — especially young people — wanted was better sidewalks,” Cornett explains. That’s why the city now builds new sidewalks as part of most repaving projects and kicks in half the cost for any homeowner or neighborhood that wants them. Developers are now required to provide sidewalks in all new projects.

As for the $18 million earmarked for sidewalks from sales tax revenue, “most of it goes where we know we need sidewalks, connecting schools and shopping centers with neighborhoods,” the mayor says.

While most people consider walking essential to a good neighborhood, there’s still a lot of opposition. “We hear from those who say, ‘We don’t need sidewalks, because no one walks here,’” Cornett says, noting that the absence of sidewalks is a big reason people don’t walk.

The city is in the early stages of initiating a Safe Routes to Schools program, making it possible for more school kids to walk or bike, and a Vision Zero campaign, aimed at eliminating all traffic fatalities in the city, says Dennis Blind of the city’s planning department. The city also holds Open Streets events — festivals where a street is blocked off to vehicles so people of all ages can reclaim the streets (temporarily) as public space.

“We’ve come a long ways in a short time,” says Cristina Fernandez, who moved from Santa Monica — one of the most walkable communities in California — for an executive position at a local firm. “But we still have a long ways to go.”

Walkscore, which rates the walkability of any address in America, still ranks Oklahoma City in the lower 15 percent of cities over 200,000, which is nonetheless a big improvement over last place. The city’s low score can be partly explained by the fact that sprawling subdivisions, which would be classified as separate municipalities elsewhere, are inside the city limits here.

The epicenter of walking in Oklahoma City is downtown and nearby neighborhoods, which exhibit all the signs of urban vitality: sidewalk cafes, new loft apartments, refurbished old neighborhoods with local business districts, indie shops and restaurants, nightlife, sports and entertainment venues, well-populated parks, riverside bike trails, and sidewalks alive with people of all ages walking between all these spots.

An old warehouse district with a pedestrian promenade along a canal thrums with activity. A 70-acre central park is being developed that will connect downtown with a largely Latino neighborhood on the South Side via a new pedestrian bridge. A streetcar line debuts later this year that will loop through many of these neighborhoods. Protected bike lanes, which physically separate bicyclists and pedestrians from rushing traffic, will soon appear on major arteries coming in and out of downtown.

Expanding Walkability Outward

Oklahoma City’s mission now is to widen the walkable section of the city outward.  Local transit service has been improved (including new Sunday and evening buses), resulting in a sizable jump in ridership. The Wheeler District, a new pedestrian-focused infill neighborhood south of downtown, breaks ground this year with plans to create 2,000 homes.

North of downtown, things are already picking up. “You have a lot of young people moving into the area because they can walk,” says Fernandez, who lives in the Crown Heights neighborhood. Business districts scattered throughout this part of town, some of which once harbored crack houses and brothels, now flourish with restaurants and shops catering to local residents.

Fernandez, her husband and kids are still waiting for sidewalks on their street but already are walking more “because there are now more places to walk to.” An attractive streetscape to improve the pedestrian ambience of the Western Avenue business district near their home makes walking more fun.

“When we go anywhere in the neighborhood now, we usually go on foot,” she says.

Photos by AmericaWalks Case Study on Oklahoma City

Jay Walljasper writes regularly about public health and healthy communities.  The former editor of Utne Reader, he is author of The Great Neighborhood Book. His website is JayWalljasper.com. Read all of Jay’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.