Posted by: bikenwalk | February 8, 2008

Study shows we need to be more active

Wansoo, the other author of this blog, recently sent a paper my way for the American Journal of Public Health (2003) entitled, “Promoting Safe Walking and Cycling to Improve Health: Lessons from the Netherlands and Germany”, by Rutgers’ very own John Pucher and Lewis Dijkstra.

Two things amazed me about this article. The first thing that caught my eye was us, Americans. The study showed that in metropolitan areas of the US, only 6% of people made trips of a mile or less by biking or walking. That means the majority of Americans get up, walk to there car (most likely in a garage), fight through traffic, park, get out, and walk to wherever they are headed. I don’t know about the cities everyone else lives in, but that type of trip will probably take about 15-20 minutes, or the same time it takes the average person to walk a mile, and costs major bucks when you add up the gas costs from these little trips. Our neighbors to the northeast, Germany and the Netherlands win the pedestrian challenge hands down, with 41% and 46% of the same distance trips being done by walking or by bike. The US may be one of the most powerful nations in the world, but when it comes to getting out of the car and on the pavement, we fall short.

The second thing that I thought was interesting was how much more dangerous it is to commute via walking or bike in the US. Even with such low rates of bike and walking commuters, the fatality rate for US bikers and walkers is 2x that in Germany and about 10x that of the Netherlands. What does this relationship mean? It could mean that availability of pedestrian and bike paths, and the safety of these paths does affect the how many people use them.

I guess this article addresses two different areas. First the local, state, and federal governments in the US need to provide a safer way for pedestrians and cyclist to navigate cities or commuting by these means will not only be difficult, but dangerous as well. Secondly, American citizens must get out and be active commuters, or the walking and bike paths will be useless. The negative feedback of inactive commuters could be stopped by action by both the government and the public working together to create healthier more active communities. Well, it’s time for me to go home for the day, and in case you are wondering, I’ll be biking home tonight.

Chris

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