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Looking past the pandemic: Could building on our willingness to change translate to healthier lives?

April 28, 2020


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April 30, 2020

I was in NY, on Long Island for 11 days in mid March. I always walk a mile to two in the neighborhood I stay in–I see maybe 3 or 4 other people walking usually. By now, I know where the less heavily trafficked streets are & always include them in a walk. This past March, there was less vehicular traffic then there’d been in the past 15-120 years and far more people walking and cycling.

As soon as people have places to drive to–restaurants, workplaces, etc. they’ll be driving. And it’ll be just as unpleasant (polluted, risky as most of that neighborhood has no sidewalks) to walk. Oh, and usually alot of commercial jets are periodically routed over that part of the Island although it’s 15 miles from the nearest airport. The air was far less polluted–by noise, jet fuel exhaust, and motor vehicle exhaust. There weren’t even many landscapers at work, so less leafblower, huge lawnmower exhaust noise.

As soon as traffic, landscaping and jet noise resume, the number of walker & cyclists will shrink. Except in places like Manhattan, (and even there, motor vehicles are allowed to dominate -take up the most space, ditto aircraft like helicopters), where walking is the best way to get around at times/for many–at least before you get on a bus or the subway.

In the US, people don’t walk or cycle because it’s often unpleasant and risky to do so. Pedestrians deaths have increased in the US, and particularly in supposedly “green” cities like Portland, OR. They drive to exercise–how many people work out in gyms when they could walk or run outside for at least 5 months out of the year?
That’s how the US is. As someone who’s tried to change that where she now lives, I can say that it’s very difficult. Public officials, elected and hired, pay lip service to creating a more “walkable” town (and a small one at that), but the money’s spent elsewhere. There’s always a ‘reason’. There’s alot more federal funding for highways, etc., then there is for sidewalks, bike lanes, bike paths, or best of all separated (by space/preferably green, from vehiclular traffic) multiuse paths with enforcement of cycling rules, i.e, you don’t run over/crowd pedestrians off of a shared path.

As little as people in the US, and apparently MDs, are willing to admit it, you can’t just change it on your own unless you’ve got alot of money or are close to obsessed. You need community support, you need elected and appointed/hired public officials who are at least willing to listen and to experiment–to build on the work of others in the US who have taken concrete & successful steps towards building places where people can safely walk and enjoy walking and cycling AND use those means of transport as a way to get where they want and need to go.

Al Lewis
April 30, 2020

Thanks for posting, Steve. Imagine how vigilant we would be if we were all twins and our twin just had a heart attack. That’s how we’ve reacted to COVID, or as you say, you quit smoking after you get lung cancer.

Or if you lose at Boggle to someone you always beat, you go home and practice.

The other thing is, we know how to avoid COVID. We don’t know how to lose weight and keep it off. So that’s another part of the equation.

Nonetheless, here’s hoping you’re right!

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