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  • The Walking Environment

    By: Joann Bally CSCS

    Are you wondering where to walk? The most convenient route starts right out your door. Itís worth driving or taking a bus to a scenic natural environment if you intend to walk for hours, but not just for a 30-minute tour.

    People are more likely to walk for transportation if their destination is within half a mile. For instance, I take 1200 steps walking to the mailbox, and 500 more if I continue on to the market. The time is about the same as driving, if you include taking the car out and finding a parking spot. These short trips are also good for training to walk faster.

    Jobs that require a lot of walking can keep you in shape, but they are getting fewer. (A study of London transit workers showed bus drivers had a greater risk of heart attack than the conductors who walked back and forth and climbed the double decker.)

    Finding good routes for exercise walking is a subject of much study, as encouraging people to walk more is a public health goal. Safety is important; this includes traffic safety, crime avoidance, and dealing with some environmental hazards. Many people list walking paths as a desirable feature of a neighborhood.

    Most cities are not walker friendly. Streets donít connect in a convenient way, short traffic lights and wide streets require even fit walkers to break into a jog to get across before the light changes, and sidewalks put you next to the cars and their exhaust. Rural areas are not that great either, with lack of sidewalks or paths giving the walker a choice between sharing the road with cars and trucks or walking in a ditch.

    New planned communities, and those undergoing urban renewal, can deal with these problems. Some options are separate walking paths, trails in parks, overpasses at busy intersections, encouraging businesses to locate in neighborhoods, and keeping most cars out of the city center, which can then have more green space. Some people prefer to walk in their neighborhoods, and they should have sidewalks and good visibility of traffic so they can walk safely and even fast. There are specialists in urban planning and in increasing pedestrian accessibility who know how to make communities walkable.

    Tell your local authorities if you want more walking and biking paths. Itís not that expensive if you consider the payoff in public health and reduced pollution. Over 40% of the land area in cities is given over to cars, with roads and parking. Thatís more than enough. Walkers can take back their share.

    For information on trails and walking clubs contact: The Sierra Club www.sierraclub.org The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy www.railtrails.org The American Volkssport Association www.ava.org

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