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.

Using Your Commute to Keep Those New Year’s Resolutions!

13 Jan

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Resolution #1    Lose weight, get in shape, exercise more (you get the idea) 
If too many holiday parties and goodies have you making this resolution then look no further than your driveway…and leave your car parked!  Try walking or biking to work or to the bus or train.  If that’s not possible you can still swap some of your car trips to run errands with biking or walking.  Did you know that on average people who commute using active transportation and by transit have less body fat than those who drive?

Resolution #2    Spend less, save more, stick to the budget, etc. 
You will see immediate savings if you switch from driving alone to walking, biking, carpooling, vanpooling or using transit.    According to the American Public Transportation Association’s Transit Savings Report, on average a person commuting by transit rather than driving will save $803 per month.  Gas prices are creeping up, and carpooling and sharing the ride with just one person cuts your cost by 50%! Feeling bold and want to save even more?  You can go car free and use a service like Zipcar for the times you must have a car.

Resolution #3    Enjoy life to the fullest, have more fun!
Add a dose of happiness to your day by biking or walking to work!  According to a study  from Portland State University, commuters who bike to work enjoyed their commutes the most, followed closely by those who walk.  Least satisfied…folks that drove alone.

Resolution #4    Learn something new
When you let someone else do the driving you’ll have lots more time for reading (or writing) the great American novel.  Plenty of extra time to do research on the internet too!

Resolution #5    Spend more time with family and friends
Nothing can shorten your commute time like telecommuting!  If it’s an option for you—even just one day a week, you can add a little extra time to the day to spend with your family.  Or take advantage of your company’s flex time and commute during less congested hours to cut down on your commute time.

Make 2017 a year of smart commute choices!  Let your commute help you keep your New Year’s resolutions!  GMTMA can help you reach your goals.  Visit us at gmtma.org for more information.

Welcome 2017

6 Jan

Goodbye 2016!  What a wild ride we’ve had this past year—in self-driving cars and buses, on bikes and trains, walking and driving.  Let’s take a look back on the good and not so good.

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Technology and its potential took a front seat in transportation news this year.  Uber launched its first fleet of autonomous vehicles for use with its ride-hailing service in Pittsburgh this year and it seems clear that this is just the beginning. US Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx predicted that “By 2021, we will see autonomous vehicles in operation across the country in ways that we [only] imagine today… Families will be able to walk out of their homes and call a vehicle, and that vehicle will take them to work or to school.”

There was increased interest on how the autonomous vehicle industry should be regulated, especially after Tesla cars using the autopilot feature were involved in three crashes, one of them fatal. The feature was in the testing phase, and the drivers were supposed to have their hands on the wheel.  At the end of 2016, Michigan became the first state to pass self-driving regulations.

In 2016 we also saw the first self-driving buses. Helsinki started testing two of the world’s first self-driving buses, and they are looking into using them as a “last mile” solution to ta take commuters to larger transit hubs.

Looking to use new technology to improve transportation, the US Department of Transportation launched the Smart City Challenge, challenging cities to develop ideas for an integrated, first-of-its-kind smart transportation system that would use data, applications, and technology to help people and goods move more quickly, cheaply, and efficiently.  Columbus, Ohio walked away the winner.

Smart bikes ruled with more cities and towns, both large and small adding bike share as an option in their community.  Locally, Princeton University expanded their Bike Share program in 2016, and anyone can use the bikes by signing up for an account with Zagster.  The Bike Share system also exists beyond campus with stations at Princeton Forrestal Center, Princeton Shopping Center and the Institute for Advanced Studies.

Ridesharing became easier than ever this year with apps and other options for the occasional ride-share, and there are also the more traditional commuter options like your TMA’s ride matching programs. They are free, and you can be matched with someone who lives/works near you and has same the schedule.

Safety unfortunately took a backseat this year.  New Jersey saw an increase in the number of traffic fatalities, 607 people lost their lives in a crash last year, 8% higher than in 2015.

New Jersey’s depleted Transportation Trust Fund resulted in a work stoppage on state transportation projects this summer, but the passage of a $.23 increase in the gas tax has given the State a dedicated source of funding for infrastructure projects and improvements.

Infrastructure was a winner in the 2016 election; many cities passed transit-oriented and biking measures—a hopeful sign  for 2017 that people are willing to reduce their driving  and looking for other options!

What do you think? What have we missed?  Let us know; we want to hear from you.

Holiday Travel and Transit Schedules

16 Dec

According the AAA Year-End Travel Forecast, 2016 is another record year for holiday travel; more than 103 million will be traveling for the holidays this year.  Gas prices are still low compared to previous years and many people choose to drive to their destination, although travel by other modes of transportation will increase as well.

If you are driving, please check our winter driving safety tips before you hit the road and check out these AAA winter driving tips.

If you are taking public transit:

NJ Transit – Bus Service . December 25, Christmas Day, Sunday service, no service on 603, 611, 612, 619, 624.

Monday, December 26 – Christmas Day Observed and Monday, January 2 – New Year’s Day observed, Saturday schedule, no service on 603, 610, 611, 612, 619, 624

Bicycles permitted at all times

Rail Service – Weekend Service on Monday, December 26 – Christmas Day Observed and Monday, January 2 – New Year’s Day Observed

Bicycles are not permitted on trains on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day

Riverline Sunday Schedule for Monday, December 26 – Christmas Day Observed and Monday, January 2 – New Year’s Day Observed

Bicycles permitted at all times

Amtrak –Schedules available here 

AirTran – http://www.panynj.gov/airports/ewr-to-from.html

SEPTA – Monday, December 26 – Christmas Day Observed and Monday, January 2 – New Year’s Day Observed regular Sunday schedule

PATH – Christmas Day – Sunday, December 25, 2016 Sunday Schedule,  Christmas Day Observed – Monday, December 26, 2016 Saturday Schedule,  New Year’s Eve – Saturday, December 31, 2016 Saturday Schedule, New Year’s Day – Sunday, January 1, 2017 Sunday Schedule

FreeB – No Service on Monday, December 26 – Christmas Day Observed and Monday, January 2 – New Year’s Day Observed

Route 130 Connection No service on Monday, December 26 – Christmas Day Observed and Monday, January 2 – New Year’s Day Observed

Tiger Transit – Evening Circulator, Lawrence/Lakeside, Equad, Sunday Shopper, and Weekender will not be in service Thursday, December 22, 2016 – Monday, January 2, 2017.  Saturday Shopper will run on limited service from 9am -3pm on Saturday, December 24, 2016 and December 31, 2016

Suburban – Monday, December 26 – Christmas Day Observed and Monday, January 2 – New Year’s Day Observed on a Sunday Schedule

Ocean Ride No service on Monday, December 26 – Christmas Day Observed and Monday, January 2 – New Year’s Day Observed

Ride Provide – No service on Monday, December 26 – Christmas Day Observed and Monday, January 2 – New Year’s Day Observed

Happy and Safe Holidays from all of us at Greater Mercer TMA!

 

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/