We should all be able to walk or bike a mile (or few) to local destinations without fear of being hit by someone driving a car. We should be able to feel completely safe and comfortable doing this. Some of us can. Most, not so much.
Vadnais Heights MN, for example, is a city of islands – little neighborhoods surrounded by Ramsey County roads with fast traffic and no safe place to walk or bike. Within a just mile of my and my neighbors houses are our elementary school, a dozen restaurants, Target, Wal-Mart, a grocery store, a bike shop, Vadnais Heights City Hall, a church, and numerous other destinations. But most people don’t walk or bike to these places. Not so much because of time or distance, but because they don’t feel safe doing so.
The slightly less than one-mile trip from my house to Panera takes about five minutes at a fairly leisurely pace, about 1 minute slower than driving (unless parking is tight in which case riding is faster). By the time I get home I’ve burned 100 calories, saved $1 or $2 versus driving, and enjoyed riding. Unfortunately, there are no cycle paths or lanes which makes riding or walking somewhat less than pleasant.
Vadnais Heights Elementary school is less than a mile away. There are stacks of studies of the benefits of children riding bikes to school, from better health to improved academics, yet students, even within just a mile, a 5 minute bike ride, spend 30 minutes on a bus every day because the roads leading to the school are too dangerous for them to ride on. The 80 buses in our White Bear district drive over a million miles each year, burn over 158,000 gallons of fuel, and each bus emits fumes that are about the equivalent of 114 cars*.
We have a terrific lakeside trail near our house for hiking and biking in the summer and snowshoeing and nordic skiing in the winter. But getting there requires walking about 200 feet along a busy county road with a sharp curve that during the winter often has no shoulder. Several of us in the neighborhood have nearly been hit so, at least during the winter, instead of walking this 200 feet, we drive a mile to a safer entrance.
That’s my local mile. Numerous places I’d like to go, but no safe ways to get there.
This blog is focused primarily on these local miles in the Northeast Twin Cities metro. Roughly east of 35W and north of 94. It’s about getting from our homes and workplaces to nearby destinations.
This is not about wearing lycra shorts and styrofoam helmets to ride 25 mph on a $5,000 carbon bike. It’s about wearing whatever we have on and riding to school, to dinner, or to have a pint with friends.
This isn’t about ‘cyclists’, terrific people they may be, it’s about the rest of us who just want to walk or ride our bikes to dinner.
* EPA Administrator Christie Whitman, Pin Oak Middle School
About The Author
I have been involved in cross cultural research for about 30 years, mostly focused on health and healthcare among OECD countries. This attempting to understand why, even though we in the U.S. have the best healthcare system (on pretty much every measure) in the world, we are the least healthy. We have the highest rates of chronic / preventable diseases of all developed countries and nearly the lowest life expectancy.
Children in the U.S. perform poorly (and near the bottom of all developed countries for math) in academic performance and a child in the U.S. is more likely to come from a failed/broken home than a child in any other developed country.
Why are we failing on these and so many other critical elements?
Family structure is critical to children’s health and wellbeing. Across every culture, children growing up with both biological parents (married or not) are significantly healthier both mentally and physically, are better socially adjusted, do better in school and have better life outcomes than children from failed families. And this is regardless of religion, educational attainment or income. What appears to be the likely reason for the latter, and overwhelmingly so, was the most surprising. Her pre-marital sexual activity resulting in Oxytocin derived mate pair-bonds with multiple people results in a weak pair-bond with her husband leading to a failed marriage and family. That is the number one determinant of whether a marriage or cohab relationship will last or not and is nearly five times as important as education, religion or any other factor.
Our poor health overall is much less surprising. We eat too much, we eat too much unhealthy stuff, we are too sedentary.
The sedentary part is the big one. We need to move. We need to move a lot. We need to move multiple times every day. Interestingly there is a near reverse correlation between gyms and gym memberships in a country and health. It’s shocking but… most people, like over 94% of people in EVERY country, don’t like to exercise. And won’t exercise.
Three things continually bubble to the top for movement; bicycling, gardening and walking. Across developed countries the highest correlation of everything we’ve looked at for health is bicycling for transportation. Countries with high rates of bicycling for transportation are healthiest (fewest chronic / preventable diseases) while those with low rates are least healthy. The U.S. is dead last. This extends to academic performance as well. The more that children in a country, city or school bicycle to school the better their academic performance.
Possibly then the number one thing we can do for our health, individually and as a nation, is make bicycling for local transportation safe and comfortable.
BTW, if you’ve not yet read it, you should read ‘The Blue Zones – 9 Lessons For Living Longer’. While movement may be the number one item we need to tackle, our health, physically, mentally and spiritually, is dependent on a number of things and The Blue Zones 9 is the best and most well-rounded information I’ve seen.