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.”

Complete Streets Resolution Approved Unanimously by Tulsa City Council

February 3, 2012 in Complete Streets

PDF File: Complete Streets Resolution Approved by City Council

TULSA – The Tulsa City Council unanimously passed a Complete Streets resolution at Thursday night’s meeting.

The resolution directs city staff to design, plan and operate streets to “provide for a balanced, responsible, and equitable way to accommodate all users including pedestrians, bicyclists, public transit riders, freight providers, emergency responders and motorists.”

The resolution also directs city staff to develop a Complete Streets Policy Guide and attend training to stay educated on the latest and best practices.

Councilor Blake Ewing explained his support for Complete Streets by highlighting its context-sensitive nature.

“What might be really appropriate in the TU area might be wildly inappropriate in South Tulsa,” said Ewing.

“We’ve oftentimes, in planning our streets, had kind of a one-size-fits-all kind of approach”, said Ewing. “I think this is fixing something, in fact, that may have been broken.”

Councilor Phil Lakin expressed excitement for the resolution because “when we do have widening projects, we will be able to add sidewalks at the same time as the streets are being widened, which is a much more efficient use of our contractors.”

Lakin added, “then we can get our kids from the neighborhoods to the schools.”

Councilor G.T. Bynum said Complete Streets was about expanding transportation options.

“Right now, everything we do related to transportation is focused on cars,” said Bynum. “And yet, there are other options out there that might be more appropriate in different areas to allow people to get around.”

House Transportation Bill Would Eliminate Dedicated Bike/Ped Funding

January 31, 2012 in Complete Streets

Congressman John Mica (R-FL) photo: U.S. Government

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman John Mica (R-FL) announced the introduction of the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act that will eliminate dedicated funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects. The League of American Bicyclists has sent out an email asking supporters of bike/ped projects to contact their representatives:

The proposed bill eliminates dedicated funding for bicycling and walking as we feared, and it goes much further and systematically removes bicycling from the Federal transportation program. It basically eliminates our status and standing in the planning and design of our transportation system — a massive step backwards for individuals, communities and our nation. It’s a step back to a 1950s highway- and auto-only program that makes no sense in the 21st century.

The bill reverses 20 years of progress by:

  • destroying Transportation Enhancements by making it optional;
  • repealing the Safe Routes to School program, reversing years of progress in creating safe ways for kids to walk and ride bicycles to school;
  • allowing states to build bridges without safe access for pedestrians and bicycles;
  • eliminating bicycle and pedestrian coordinators in state DOTs; and
  • eliminating language that insures that rumble strips “do not adversely affect the safety or mobility of bicyclists, pedestrians or the disabled.”

On Thursday, the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee will mark-up the bill and Representatives Petri (R-WI) and Johnson (R-IL) will sponsor an amendment that restores dedicated funding for Transportation Enhancements and Safe Routes to School. Representatives Petri and Johnson can only be successful if everyone with a stake in safe sidewalks, crosswalks, and bikeways contacts their representative today.

 

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.

KRMG Confuses ‘Walkability’ With Trails, Riles Up Listeners

December 9, 2011 in Bicycling, Walking

TULSA – Two tweets from Bike Walk Tulsa spawned two news stories about biking and walking on Tulsa radio station KRMG Wednesday and Thursday. The stories, unfortunately, were filled with misspellings (their specialty is talking into a microphone) and factual inaccuracies that generated tweets, status updates and comments, oh my!

Joe Kelley

Joe Kelley, News Director and host of The KRMG Morning News (photo: KRMG)

It all started on Tuesday when KRMG’s news director and morning show host, Joe Kelley (@talkradiojoe), tweeted

“I’m FIRST today in the school pickup line for the kids!

This must have been how Neil Armstrong felt.

#booyah

In a nudging effort to get Kelley to explain the obstacles that prevent his and other Tulsa-area children from biking and walking to school, Bike Walk Tulsa (@bikewalktulsa) responded by tweeting,

“Y not let em bike or walk?”

Bike Walk Tulsa expected standard responses like “too dangerous to have my kids cross a busy street”, “no sidewalks” or “cul de sacs and dead ends mean the kids would have to walk/bike along busy streets to get there” – you know, common suburban problems. Instead, @talkradiojoe responded with,

“It’s 9 miles away. And they’re 5.”

Apparently, Kelley has his kids in private school or some kind of magnet school because most public elementary school kids don’t have a nine mile commute.  Although it wasn’t quite the expected answer, @bikewalktulsa responded anyhow by telling Kelley about the Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program,

“If school is ever closer, check out Safe Routes to School bit.lysqy9En good day!”

The link in the tweet takes you to a Bike Walk Tulsa story on SRTS that contains an embedded video about the program’s work in Tulsa.

Trails Alone Don’t Make A City ‘Walkable’

In the Tuesday edition of ‘Word on the Street’, Bike Walk Tulsa included a link to a story about Tulsa earning the ranking of seventh most artery-clogging city in the U.S. The story attributes Tulsa’s ranking to its “low walkability.”

“According to Walk Score, an organization which promotes pedestrian-friendly communities, only 6% of Tulsa residents live in a neighborhood with a walk score of 70 or above (100 being best) and 57% live in entirely car-dependent locales.”

The difference between a walkable neighborhood and a sprawling neighborhood.

Source: WalkScore.com

A quick and easy search of the Walk Score website finds that a walkable neighborhood is one where schools and workplaces are close enough that most residents can walk from their homes, affordable housing is located near businesses, buildings are close to the street with parking lots in the rear, streets are designed with pedestrians in mind, there are plenty of public places to gather and play, and there are enough people for businesses to flourish and for public transit to run frequently.

Fast forward to Wednesday night – after checking out Bike Walk Tulsa’s site and seeing the artery-clogging article, KRMG gets a little creative (i.e. makes stuff up) by posting a story on its website with the headline:

Claim: Tulsa is 7th Most Artery-Clogging City Due to Lack of Trails

Lack of trails? Nevermind the article that prompted KRMG’s story did not even contain the word ‘trail’. Evidently, Joe Kelley and his news staff didn’t do enough fact-checking to gain an understanding of what makes up a walkable city. According to KRMG, if you can get into your car and drive a few miles to River Parks or LaFortune Park, Tulsa must be very walkable. Then, in an admirable effort to help combat Oklahoma’s obesity epidemic, KRMG reveals the mind-blowing secret that if you just park your car a little further away from Walmart, your obesity problems will disappear.

“…we can all do more to keep ourselves healthy by making small adjustments to our lifestyle.

For example, park on the far side of the parking lot rather than as close to the door as you can get.”

Read the rest of this entry →

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 →