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Why Walking is Worth the Effort for Me

27 Jan

This week’s post comes from a www.strongtowns.org Pathfinder, Michelle Erfurt. Michelle’s story shows how beneficial it is to find a time to walk.

I love following along with the work of John Simmerman of Active Towns who shares examples of towns that support a culture of activity. The practice of getting fresh air by taking a walk every day is something that should be easy for me to do… I work from home, my house is in a town with sidewalks, near a big park, beside a historic district, and two blocks from a quaint downtown. I’m not lacking in things to see or places to go.

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Michelle walking her son Eddie. Photo credit: Michelle Erfurt

But working from home on my computer and taking care of a 3-month-old always takes a higher priority and before I know it, the day is over and I haven’t gotten outside. Let’s just say that I’m completely on board with the philosophy of Active Towns and Strong Towns, but the practice is challenging. I have two kids and a job, I’m often tired and seldom alone, so taking time to be active outside feels like a big hassle. Then, the next edition of the Active Towns newsletter lands in my inbox and I’m reminded that I really need to get out there.

We had really nice weather the other day so I decided to walk to pick up my 4-year-old from school instead of drive. I put the baby in the baby carrier and walked him, the stroller and myself to day care. It’s about a mile away.

When I picked up Eddie (the older kid), he did not want to walk. He said he wanted to “ride in his car”. As we went, he hugged every parking meter and after a block, he decided to ride in his stroller. In his stroller, he talked non-stop commenting on how big the trees were, how he loves trees, pointing out all the newspapers in front of people’s houses, and talking, talking, talking. He talks a lot and at a very loud volume. I was happy to not have to constantly remind him to use his inside voice. Eddie has a speech delay and gets speech therapy twice a week. It’s very hard to understand him most of the time but the more we practice, the better it gets. Finding opportunities where speech practice can naturally occur is really important. And this walk was full of them.

When we were almost home, a little girl came out of a house saying “Eddie! Hi Eddie!”. It turns out that she is in Eddie’s classroom in the mornings and her grandmother lives down our street. She hangs out with grandma in the afternoons. Maybe I finally found a neighborhood kid for him to play with this summer.

Picking up Eddie like this takes me a full hour. When we got home I was sweating, the stroller and baby attached to me became heavier and heavier. It would definitely be much less shorter in the car and would take a lot less effort on my part. But the benefits outnumbered the challenges: I got outside, the baby got outside, Eddie practiced his speech, we got to do something fun together and we met some neighbors. I felt really proud of myself too! The active lifestyle looks different for everyone.

The next day, Eddie told his dad “I want mommy to walk me home every day”. So, I guess he liked it too.

Thank you Michelle and Strong Towns for this article! Michelle Erfurt is a Strong Towns “Pathfinder” and a mother of two.

This article originally appeared on www.strongtowns.org and was reprinted with permission,” followed by the permanent link to the blog post. http://www.strongtowns.org/contributors-journal/michelle-erfurt

Active Transportation and the Health of Our Communities

20 Jan

Project for Public Spaces (PPS) released a new report, The Case for Healthy Places, in December 2016 in which they highlight key areas that support healthy placemaking.  According to PPS one’s zip code is a better predictor of health than genetic code. Where we live and where we work matters and we can see that from research highlighting health disparities among low-income communities and high-income communities.

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We already know that Americans have some of the highest rates of diabetes, heart disease, asthma and certain cancer types.  Americans also suffer from poor mental health and all of these conditions are linked to insufficient physical activity among other factors. Insufficient physical activity is directly related to the way our communities are designed.   PPS states issues such as sprawl, unwalkable communities, poor air quality, unsafe street design for walking and biking, all have a negative impact on our physical and mental health.

One of the key areas named in the PPS report is Walking and Biking. According to research cited by PPS, placemaking supports more walkable and bikeable communities which leads to improved safety  and accessibility of streets,  a sense of community, increased physical activity, support of local economies, and reduced air pollution. And we now have enough evidence that physical activity helps reduce the risk of chronic disease.

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So what would encourage more physical activity? According to the American Planning Association cited by PPS report, there are nine features that encourage active transportation:

  • Sidewalks
  • Bike lanes and racks
  • Traffic calming measures
  • Crosswalks and signals
  • Aesthetics and placemaking efforts, such as public art and fountains
  • Public space including parks and plazas
  • Street trees
  • Green infrastructures, including greenways and rain gardens
  • Street furniture, including benches, bus shelters, and signage

The report shows that active transportation is not only good for our health but also for the health of our local economies. And studies show that physically active kids have better concentration, mood, self-image, self-confidence, and fewer chronic health problems.

What do you think about the walking and biking conditions in your community?  What do you like? What would you like to change?

Let us know; you can comment on our social media or write a guest blog.

You can find the full report here and the report release article here.

Holiday Season is Near, Drunk Driving is the Wrong Kind of Cheer

9 Dec

From December 14th to January 1st, NHTSA will run the Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over Campaign to raise awareness and prevent drunk driving.  New Jersey is cracking down starting today, December 9, until January 1!

Infographic source: NHTSA

Infographic source: NHTSA

Every year during the winter holidays there is an increase in the number of drunk-driving crashes and according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In 2014 10,076 people died in drunk driving crashes, in 2015 10, 265 people died in drunk driving related crashes. Over a five-year period, close to 4000 died in drunk driving related crashes during the month of December. It is sad to see these figures and the fact that they are going up every year. It is very sad to think that 181 children 14 and younger were among those who died in a crash involving a drunk driver.

The most dangerous times are nights, weekends, and the holidays.  In December 2015, the number of fatal crashes that involved drunk driving was 4 times higher at night than during the day. Let 2016 be the year when the trend reverses.

You can help! Be prepared and have a plan in place before going out. Have a designated driver if you plan to drink, call a cab or try NHTSA’s SaferRide mobile app, which allows users to call a taxi or a friend by identifying their location so they can be picked up. The app is available at http://ow.ly/RWs3S for Android and http://ow.ly/RWs8h for iPhone users.

Another option for planning a night out, a company holiday gathering or other social events and trips, is to hire a professional driver to get you there safely and in comfort. Greater Mercer TMA members: A1-Limousine, Starr Tours, and Stout’s Transportation have limousines and buses available to ferry you and your guests to holiday festivities.

Other things you can do to keep the Happy in Holidays are: helping other people be responsible, if someone you know has been drinking, don’t let them drive and if you see a drunk driver, call the police.

Happy and safe holidays!

Source: http://www.trafficsafetymarketing.gov

Bicyclists Outnumber Drivers In Copenhagen

2 Dec

When we think bicycle friendly city, we think Copenhagen.   And these days Copenhagen is getting a lot of attention and envy because it just reached a milestone; the number of bicyclists surpassed the number of drivers.

You can’t help but wonder how did it get here?

It turns out Copenhagen started as a city of bicycles, and then people embraced car ownership in the 1920’s. In a simple twist, bicyclists were seen as slightly annoying to motorists and the number of traffic accidents involving bicyclist and motorists increased.

Copenhagen was headed in the same direction as many other cities, congestion, traffic accidents, and pollution. People riding bicycles kept being pushed to the side of the road or off the road and they took the streets; they wanted to be able to ride their bikes safely again. Copenhageners protested and asked for a change in street design, putting bikes first and cars second and asking for safe bicycle infrastructure.

There was, as you might expect, some back and forth about design, cost, and how to pay for the new bicycle infrastructure.

In the end, city planning gave space to bicycle lanes, bicycles experienced a comeback, and it is now once again seen as a symbol of health, freedom, and the symbol to clean and lively cities. Most people in Copenhagen, even kindergarteners and a large number of politicians, bike year round.

I guess the answer is good planning, starting young and keep the wheels spinning until it becomes such a big part of your life that you are no longer willing to tolerate pollution and traffic accidents anymore and would rather leave the car behind.

Sources:
https://cleantechnica.com/2016/11/28/people-bicycling-driving-copenhagen-now/
http://denmark.dk/en/green-living/bicycle-culture/how-denmark-become-a-cycling-nation
http://denmark.dk/en/green-living/bicycle-culture/copenhagen-bike-city-for-more-than-a-century
http://www.copenhagenize.com/2012/02/danish-bicycle-infrastructure-history.html
http://www.copenhagenize.com/
http://www.citylab.com/commute/2012/04/why-streets-copenhagen-and-amsterdam-look-so-different-ours/1849/

Street Smart Campaign Launch

28 Sep

Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert and the Princeton Police Department are holding a news conference with the Greater Mercer Transportation Management Association (GMTMA) Thursday, September 29 to kick off its participation in Street Smart New Jersey, a pedestrian safety initiative focusing on outreach and education designed to change unsafe behavior by pedestrians and drivers on our streets.

zerogrpah

The event is being held at Hinds Plaza at the intersection of Witherspoon and Hullfish Streets during the Princeton Farmers Market at 12:30pm.

Speakers will include Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert, Princeton Police Chief Nicholas Sutter, and GMTMA Executive Director Cheryl Kastrenakes.

The Street Smart Campaign is launching in early October to coincide with the start of local schools and the return of Princeton University students for the fall semester.  The campaign focuses on compliance of traffic and pedestrian safety laws.  The Princeton Police Department is partnering with GMTMA, a non-profit transportation organization serving Mercer County.

“We want everyone to be safe whether they’re walking to school, to work, to the store, or out for some exercise,” said Mayor Lempert. “Princeton has lots of pedestrians because we’re a great, walkable community, and that’s why this safety campaign is so important. It’s an opportunity to remind both pedestrians and drivers of the rules that are designed to keep everyone safe.”

Street Smart is a collaborative effort between the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority (NJTPA), Federal Highway Administration, New Jersey Department of Transportation and New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety.  GMTMA is working with NJTPA to coordinate Street Smart campaign in communities in Mercer and Ocean Counties.

Street Smart aims to change pedestrian and motorist behavior to reduce pedestrian-related crashes, injuries, and fatalities.  The campaign uses the slogan “check your vital signs” to remind motorists and pedestrians of safe travel roles and responsibilities.  Vital signs are displayed on tip cards, posters, and temporary street signs throughout the community as a visual reminder for drivers and pedestrians.

In the state of New Jersey, from 2010-2014, 750 pedestrians were killed and 17,000 were injured.  Between 2013 and 2015, there were 55 pedestrian-related crashes in Princeton.  Of those accidents 52 pedestrians were injured and there was one fatality.

For more information on GMTMA and the Street Smart campaign in other municipalities, go to gmtma.org/street-smart.

Is It the Low Gas Prices?

9 Sep

The latest National Highway Traffic Safety Administration figures show a large increase in the number of traffic fatalities in the last year. A total of 35,092 people lost their life in traffic crashes, an increase of 7.2% since 2014. The total number includes drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians.  The previous trend of declining traffic deaths has been reversed in 2015 and the main reason cited was increased driving due to the low fuel prices. And according to a CDC study, U.S. now has the highest traffic deaths when compared to other high-income countries.

So is it really just the low gas prices? Not really. Low gas prices led to an increase in the number of people driving, but it didn’t cause the crashes. The CDC study shows that too many people are behaving recklessly, speeding, driving while intoxicated and not always using their seatbelt.

In addition, poor transit options and street design that prioritizes cars over humans also play a big role. And that’s why supporters of Complete Streets policy and Vision Zero are gaining ground in more and more places across United States. Designing our streets to be safer can reduce the instances of traffic deaths by lowering the speed limit, giving pedestrians and bicyclists safe access, and allowing public transit to run on time.

Until we have safer streets and better transit options, we can help change the trend by driving carefully and looking out for each other whether you are a driver, a cyclist, or a pedestrian.

Sources:

http://nacto.org/2016/08/31/traffic-deaths/

https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/motor-vehicle-safety/index.html

http://www.curbed.com/2016/9/1/12737230/streets-traffic-deaths-pedestrians

http://www.nhtsa.gov/About+NHTSA/Press+Releases/traffic-fatalities-2015

September is Healthy Aging Month

2 Sep

September is healthy aging month and good mobility is a critical aspect of healthy living!

Family Walking In The Park

Most of us recognize that poor health can affect a person’s ability to get around easily.  Less attention though has been given to the fact that mobility affects health and well-being. Access to transportation for seniors is closely tied to their quality of life.

Did you know:

  • 21% of seniors no longer drive
  • Non-drivers make 15% fewer trips to the doctor
  • 59% fewer shopping trips
  • 65% fewer trips for social, family and religious activities

We all need to have the ability to stay connected to our communities, healthcare, shopping and social opportunities.  Healthy aging depends on it!

How to help yourself or the seniors in your life:

  1. Encourage everyone to keep walking. Maintaining mobility is a lot easier than regaining mobility.
  2. Promote Complete Streets in your town so that safe walking is possible.
  3. Keep driving skills sharp by signing up for a driver refresher course through AARP.
  4. Learn how to use public transportation. It will be much easier to “put down the keys” if it should become necessary.  Contact GMTMA to learn about our travel training classes.
  5. Learn about senior ride services like TRADEand RideProvide in Mercer County and Ocean Ride in Ocean County.
  6. Advocate for improved transportation options for seniors.
  7. Have a positive attitude!