HBO Documentary: Walking, Biking Part of Cure for Obesity Epidemic

May 16, 2012 in Education

The four-part HBO Documentary “The Weight of the Nation” prescribes more walking, biking and other forms of physical activity as a cure for the U.S. obesity crisis.

Oklahoma is the seventh most obese state in the nation, but it’s number one in adult obesity growth rate. That means we are better at getting fatter faster than anyone in the country.

The HBO documentary delves into our nation’s weight problem and finds that increases in calorie consumption coupled with a lack of physical activity are the root cause. Better diets will help you lose weight, but physical activity is needed to keep that weight off long-term.

“The question is what changed in the last 30 years to make this obesity epidemic happen,” says Robert Lustig, MD, a Neuroendocrinologist with the University of California, San Francisco.

The increase of car-dependency in our communities is a major factor in the reduction of physical activity.

“We don’t walk, we don’t bike, and it’s cut off hundreds of calories of physical activity,” says Barry Popkin, PhD, an economist and Professor of Nutrition at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

More than 75% of Americans drive to work — a 300% increase since 1960. In 1969, 42% of children walked or biked to school. Today, more than 80% are driven to school. Currently, less than 5% of adults meet the minimum guidelines for physical activity.

“In fact, roughly one in four adults gets no physical activity at all,” says Eric Finkelstein, PhD an economist at Duke University.

“We’ve engineered physical activity out of our everyday lives,” According to William Dietz, MD, PhD, the Director of the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Our work as adults has been increasingly sedentary.”

Much of our sedentary lifestyles comes about from the built environment, one that prioritizes the moving of motor vehicles as fast as possible while ignoring more active modes of transportation.

Cars dominate so much of our lives that one child in the documentary who lives in a poor community with few parks nearby laments, “all these parking lots are, like, kind of the park we have.”

Karl Dean, Mayor of Nashville, is working to change his city into one that makes living a healthy lifestyle “the easy choice.”

Dean isn’t just talking either. He’s walking the walk by pouring $13 million into sidewalks. Nashville also has received $7.5 million in grants from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for obesity prevention efforts, building on their work of improving bike lanes, sidewalks and parks.

“We have to invest in quality of life. People want to live in a city that’s healthy, that’s clean, that’s walkable and bikeable, that’s full of places where they can exercise and enjoy fresh air,” says Dean.

“We know that to be healthier we need to eat better and exercise more. And how you make that part of the city is really the challenge.”

Tulsa Neighborhoods Take Leap, Approve Bike Lanes for 4th Place

February 29, 2012 in Bicycling, Featured

4th Place Bike Lanes

Cross section depiction of the redesign of 4th Place between Sheridan & Yale with bike lanes. Source: City of Tulsa

TULSA – Bike lanes were approved for 4th Place between Yale and Sheridan by the White City and Glenhaven neighborhoods at a public meeting Tuesday evening. The bike lanes would be the first neighborhood bike lanes in the city and could be in place within a year and a half.

The City of Tulsa conducted the public meeting at Yale Avenue Presbyterian Church in an effort to reach out to the neighborhood and ask the citizens what they wanted their street to look like since the street is being entirely reconstructed as part of the Fix Our Streets program.

City Planner, Theron Warlick, conducted the meeting in an effort to build consensus among the neighborhood residents on the new design for the 40-foot-wide curb-to-curb reconstruction project. Several engineers from the City of Tulsa and District 5 Councilor, Karen Gilbert, were also in attendance.

Theron Warlick

Theron Warlick leads a neighborhood meeting about the 4th Place street redesign. photo: Lassiter

Warlick presented attendees with four street design options. The first option was to simply rebuild the street the same way it is now, a four-lane street. Option A would change the street to a two-lane street with marked parallel parking. Option B, the one the neighborhood ended up selecting, converts the street to a two-lane street with two six-foot bike lanes and parallel parking on one side of the street. Option C involved converting the street to two 14-foot travel lanes and one 12-foot center turn lane, a design usually reserved for business districts.

All street design options include the addition of a sidewalk on one side of the street.

“At one time this was supposed to be an arterial street, just like Yale or Sheridan or 11th Street,” Warlick said, “but it never really panned out that way.”

When I-244 was built in the area, Admiral became the more important street, yet 4th place is still striped like a four-lane arterial even though it carries only 2,900 vehicles a day. Yale Avenue, by comparison, carries 20,000 vehicles a day. The traffic-control-device-free mile-long stretch of 4th Place encourages traffic to cut through the neighborhood, oftentimes much faster than the posted 35 mph speed limit.

“Cars zip up and down there at 60 mph,” said one concerned resident.

The task for residents at Tuesday night’s meeting was to determine how 4th Place could be turned back into a neighborhood street. Warlick began the meeting by asking residents what they liked and didn’t like about 4th Place, sometimes referred to by locals as “Big 4th.”

Many residents believed cars traveled too fast down the street, making the street unsafe for kids crossing on the way to school, edging the front yard, or even parked cars. Read the rest of this entry →

Washington Post Copy Editor Says Bike Lanes, Bike-Share Drove Him to Bike

January 16, 2012 in Bicycling

Washington, D.C. – Sometimes people need a little nudge to even consider the bicycle as a valid means of transportation. For Washington Post copy editor, Bill Walsh, bike lanes and bike-share stations were like a small tap on the shoulder, a whisper in his ear to “give it a try.”

In a recent blog post for Bicycling Magazine, Walsh describes how bike lanes helped encourage him to begin bike commuting last April when he otherwise wouldn’t have:

Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes in Washington, D.C. photo: pedbikeimages.org / Elvert Barnes

If bike sharing was my gateway drug as a two-wheeled commuter, bike lanes were my enabler. I’m confident about riding with cars now that I have some experience, but I’m not sure I ever would have started down this path if the dedicated car-free routes (and that includes the Mall) had not been available.

After only three months using the Capital Bikeshare bicycles to get to work, Walsh ended up having his Trek outfitted with lights, racks and fenders and began using his own bike for his commute.

Walsh made the video below of his commute ride, which takes him by the Capitol, down the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes and past the FBI building and the White House. When combined with bike lanes and other bicycle facilities, bike-share can be a great way to turn people on to the idea of bicycle transportation.

The Difference Between a Road and a Street

December 20, 2011 in Complete Streets

The Complete Streets concept is one of the most significant developments in street design for bicyclists and pedestrians in the last decade. But the addition of bike lanes and sidewalks to a project is not enough to make a Complete Street. If engineers and planners don’t consider the surrounding land use of the area, if they don’t consider all modes of travel equally in the street design from the outset, if the automobile is still the primary beneficiary of the design with bicyclists and pedestrians a mere afterthought, you won’t get a Complete Street – you’ll get a complete road.

According to the Smart Transportation Guidebook, the desire to go ‘through’ a place must be balanced with the desire to go ‘to’ a place.

Roads are efficient connections between two places. Streets are a network within a place to allow people to get around. People generally don’t enjoy going ‘to’ places with high speed, high volume automobile traffic, so roads shouldn’t go ‘through’ these places. Streets in our places should be designed, scaled and prioritized for the individual – for people.

Chuck Marohn from Strong Towns explains more about the important difference between a road and a street in his TED talk above.

Dutch Bike Lane Intersection Design

December 14, 2011 in Bicycling

Intersection design is one of the most important considerations for bike lane safety. A common issue with bike lanes at intersections is the possibility for right-hooks – a car/bike collision that occurs when a right-turning car overtakes and cuts off a bicyclist in the bike lane. The video above shows a Dutch design that strives to mitigate the right-hook problem.

Janette Sadik-Khan on NBC’s Rock Center

December 6, 2011 in Complete Streets

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NEW YORK CITY – Too often city leaders (yes, I’m talking about you Tulsa) are afraid to make waves, afraid to stir the pot and make bold changes for the benefit of the community because they fear people might complain.

While Janette Sadik-Khan, New York City’s transportation commissioner, might fear complaints, they don’t stop her from pursuing her goal of making New York’s streets safer for everyone.

“Change is always hard, and you’re not going to make everybody happy,” says Sadik-Khan, “But you have to try your best to leave the city in a better place than where you found it, and that’s really what I’m here to do.”

Sadik-Khan has doubled the number of bike lanes in the city and created pedestrian plazas for everyone to enjoy. She even closed down part of Times Square (Gasp!) to cars and handed it over to pedestrians.

NBC’s “Rock Center” profiles Sadik-Khan above and shows how she pushes ahead even when the going gets tough.

Update: After you watch the video, check out this Streetsblog analyisis of BriWi’s reaction to the piece.

Tulsa’s ‘Fix Our Streets’ Program Does Not Complete Our Streets

December 2, 2011 in Complete Streets

TULSA – City officials have said the Fix Our Streets program is the most substantial investment Tulsa has made in its streets in decades.

And although it is generally more cost-effective to design a street right the first time as opposed to retrofitting it later, the Fix Our Streets program is still almost entirely car-focused with little attempt made to accommodate other road users.

As a result, Tulsa is missing an incredible opportunity to incorporate Complete Streets enhancements, like narrow lanes, bike lanes and sidewalks, to the transportation network in the most cost-effective way and at the appropriate time – which is now, as the streets are being refurbished. Once the streets are ‘fixed’, it is unlikely the city will reinvest in those streets for quite some time, perhaps decades.

Tulsa’s Transportation Advisory Board presented a report to the Tulsa City Council in October that recommends the council adopt a Complete Streets policy ensuring all new street and rehabilitation projects accommodate all road users: mass transit, bicyclists, pedestrians and motor vehicles.

With the massive turnover on the City Council – only two councilors are returning in 2012 – the Transportation Advisory Board plans to present Complete Streets again to the new council. The board hopes action will be taken on a Complete Streets policy when the new council takes office.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is already on board with Complete Streets, recommending the adoption of policy statements that vow to incorporate bicycle and pedestrian facilities in all transportation projects unless exceptional circumstances exist.

From FHWA’s policy statement:

Bicycle and pedestrian ways shall be established in new construction and reconstruction projects in all urbanized areas unless one or more of three conditions are met:

  • bicyclists and pedestrians are prohibited by law from using the roadway. In this instance, a greater effort may be necessary to accommodate bicyclists and pedestrians elsewhere within the right of way or within the same transportation corridor.
  • the cost of establishing bikeways or walkways would be excessively disproportionate to the need or probable use. Excessively disproportionate is defined as exceeding twenty percent of the cost of the larger transportation project.
  • where sparsity of population or other factors indicate an absence of need. For example, the Portland Pedestrian Guide requires “all construction of new public streets” to include sidewalk improvements on both sides, unless the street is a cul-de-sac with four or fewer dwellings or the street has severe topographic or natural resource constraints.

 

What this means is, in urban areas like Tulsa, unless the city prohibits biking and walking on the road, the city needs to design the street so it is safe and appealing to pursue those activities on the right-of-way.

Currently, Tulsa’s policy is to add a sidewalk on at least one side of the road during street rehabilitation projects. That’s a good start, but asking pedestrians to cross the street twice to reach a destination on the same side of the block falls far short of the goals of a Complete Streets policy.

The best time to add bike lanes is when the paint meets the pavement. And bike lanes, while included in the PlaniTulsa comprehensive plan, are no where to be found on Fix Our Streets projects.

That could change if and when the Indian Nations Council of Governments (INCOG) receives funding for a regional Bicycle & Pedestrian Master Plan. INCOG is hoping to receive a grant from the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) to fund the creation of the master plan, but there are no guarantees.

Even if funding comes through, the development of a Bicycle & Pedestrian Master Plan has taken other cities as many as two years to complete. In the meantime, the Fix Our Streets program is set to kick off a fourth phase of projects that continue repaving roads while leaving bicyclists, pedestrians and Complete Streets behind. Read the rest of this entry →

NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide Print Version Available

November 15, 2011 in Bicycling

3D rendering of bike lane

NACTO's Urban Bikeway Design Guide is now available in print. (photo: NACTO)

NEW YORK CITY – The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) is now taking orders for the print version of the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide.

The print guide was announced at a press conference in October but was not available for order until recently. An online version has been available since April.

Developed by a panel of urban bikeway design professionals, traffic engineers and academics, the guide aims to create safer, more attractive and livable streets for everyone through better designed on-street bikeways. The design guide covers bike lanes, buffered bike lanes, cycle tracks, intersections, bike signals and signing.

NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide“Now more than ever, U.S. cities need knowledge-based resources to create streets that work better and are safer for bicyclists,” said Janette Sadik-Khan, New York City Transportation Commissioner and NACTO President. “While the Urban Bikeway Design Guide easily provides the how-to, we must commit to making critical investments so these projects don’t stall as they move from concept to execution.”

Bike lanes are included in Tulsa’s comprehensive plan that resulted from the PlaniTulsa initiative. As city planners implement the comprehensive plan, the design guide can be used as a resource to ensure on-street bikeways are designed using best practices assimilated from national and international experts as well as the streets, transportation and public works departments of the 15 largest U.S. cities.

The guide enables jurisdictions to adopt specific versions of the guide for use and is intended to serve as a desk reference to planners, engineers and advocates.

Oklahoma Bike Summit: Bicycle Facility Design

November 6, 2011 in Bicycling

The Chesapeake Boathouse in Oklahoma City was home to the first-ever Oklahoma Bike Summit. (photo: Lassiter)

OKLAHOMA CITY –  The first-ever Oklahoma Bicycle Summit took place at Chesapeake Boathouse Nov. 4 – 5 in Oklahoma City. The two-day meeting of bicyclists, city planners and engineers, attracted attendees from all over Oklahoma, with some attending from surrounding states as well.

The event presented by the Oklahoma Bicycling Coalition brought in several speakers including, John LaPlante, professional traffic operations engineer from T.Y. Lin International in Chicago, Andy Clarke, President of The League of American Bicyclists, and Ginny Sullivan of the Adventure Cycling Association.

Attendees listen to John LaPlante's bicycle facility workshop at the Oklahoma Bike Summit. (photo: Lassiter)

Day one of the summit was an all-day workshop dedicated to bicycle facility design led by John LaPlante. Connectivity was a major theme of designing bikeways.

Connect to Destinations

Destinations are the starting point when designing a good bike network, according to LaPlante. Instead of just throwing bike facilities on every street, municipalities should find all the destinations bicyclists want and need to go, like the grocery store, library, schools, employment centers, shopping centers and restaurants. Once these destinations are identified, then routes to get there can be mapped out and the appropriate bike facility can be chosen.

It is okay to use varying types of bike facilities along the same route. Bike lanes won’t necessarily work everywhere because sometimes there just isn’t enough right-of-way. It is perfectly acceptable to go from a bike lane to shared lane markings, or sharrows, for a few blocks, as long as the signing and markings make it clear to everyone what is happening. But the most important thing is that the varying bike facilities are connected along the whole route. A bike lane should never just end without telling the bicyclist where to go next.

LaPlante also had some words about the bicycle route signs that mark the on-street bikeways in Tulsa with a white bicycle on a green background accompanied by the words “Bicycle Route” written beneath. According to LaPlante, those bike route signs are about as effective as a sign showing a car with the word “Street” underneath. Bicycle routes should be numbered, named, or employ wayfinding signs that notify the bicyclist where the route is headed.

Read the rest of this entry →