Tom Vanderbilt On The Importance Of Walking, Both For Our Health and For Our Cities

Slate /Screen capture

Tom Vanderbilt, who previously explained why we drive the way we do in a book, now explains why we walk the way we do, or more accurately, why we don't, in a wonderful series of articles in Slate.

In part one, The Crisis in American Walking, Vanderbilt explains how walking has been engineered out of existence; he illustrates the point with a photo of a grandma driving her grand-daughter from the house to the curb to catch the school bus. He points out that as far as engineers are concerned, those who walk are impediments, obstacles, responsible for delays. And if only we would walk more, our lives would be better:

Walking is the ultimate “mobile app.” Here are just some of the benefits, physical, cognitive and otherwise, that it bestows: Walking six miles a week was associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s (and I’m not just talking about walking in the “Walk to End Alzheimers”); walking can help improve your child’s academic performance; make you smarter; reduce depression; lower blood pressure; even raise one’s self-esteem.” And, most important, though perhaps least appreciated in the modern age, walking is the only travel mode that gets you from Point A to Point B on your own steam, with no additional equipment or fuel required, from the wobbly threshold of toddlerhood to the wobbly cusp of senility.

Part II covers the science of walking, while Part III covers a subject dear to TreeHugger's heart, Walkscore.

Sally Flocks/Screen capture

Part IV begins with the tragic tale of Raquel Nelson:

The plight of life on foot in America was nowhere more poignantly expressed than in the conviction, just last year, of a Georgia woman for vehicular manslaughter. What brought the case to national prominence was a single, Kafka-esque detail: She was not driving.

We covered the story on TreeHugger; how the poorest people who rely on public transit have to cross highways without convenient signals, and how she was blamed when her son was killed by a drunk driver. Vanderbilt goes on to explain that much of America is designed this way, and that the problems caused by it are just going to get worse.

This failure to plan for anyone on foot is just one of a number of shortcomings of our overbuilt, undermaintained road network that are coming into relief. In Orlando, parents of children who live closer than two miles to school are worried about looming cuts in bus service due to budget constraints. There is even concern about those who face a relatively short walk of 100 yards to catch a bus. Why? Because the environment was not built to accommodate anyone walking—there are no sidewalks and only poor crossings amid fast-moving traffic. Elsewhere, schools built without sidewalks scramble for funding as students walk in the ditches beside busy roads. In South Jordan, Utah, a woman was cited with child neglect for allowing her son to walk to school. Why was he walking? Because the school had eliminated its “hazardous bus routes.” What’s a hazardous bus route? A bus route meant to pick up kids who live in areas without sidewalks. There is child neglect going on here, for sure, but it’s the neglect of a system in which children within walking distance of school cannot actually do so.

A must-read at Slate.

Tags: Atlanta | Car-Free | Walking

WHAT'S HOT ON FACEBOOK