James Davenport Transportion (Past, Present and Future)


The Galapagos Islands and Climate Change (Small Actions Matter)

Written by nspiregreen on August 21. Posted in Blog, ChangeEnvironmentSustainabilityTransportationVision Zero,  Climate Change

Great to post about my trip to Galapagos Islands. I recommend such a trip to help you think about the values of sustainability.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “every little bit helps?” It is a shame there are things we want to accomplish but we get discouraged because some of these goals may seem insurmountable. We may not realize that some of the things we already do may help reach that goal.  For instance, I got back from a trip to Galapagos Islands a few months ago. And as I was thinking about the trip, it occurred to me that the Galapagos Islands are like a naturalist paradise. As we make commitments to address climate change (big or small), we are moving closer to the goal of reaching a naturalist paradise of our own......




What Are the Benefits of Children Walking to School?

Quite a bit has been made these days of the increasing obesity in children. The rate of type 2 diabetes has increased and parents, elected leaders and health officials are trying to come up with various causes of this epidemic and some potential solutions.

One common cause is the fact that children simply are not getting enough exercise. They are staying inside too much playing computer games or watching TV. The question, though, is how to encourage kids to exercise more; how to instill in them the desire to get outside and exercise.

One idea is to provide the opportunity for kids to walk, or bike, to school. It may seem like a strange idea to some of you, especially if you grew up in the 80s or 90s when, in most cases, your parents drove you to school or you took a school bus. In fact, I've heard stories of parents driving their children to school even if the school is only a few hundred feet away or simply across the street. Parents say it is a safety issue; they don't feel comfortable with their children crossing a busy road unaccompanied. I can understand that. There is also the chance of the horrible instance in which children are abducted or kidnapped.

I remember when I was a child growing up in Newport News, VA in the mid 60s. We lived in a neighborhood at the time that was relatively undeveloped and I walked to school, usually with a companion, which was a mile away. At that time nobody thought I was in any particular danger or vulnerable to any type of malevolent strangers. Maybe some precautions should have been taken, I don't know.

Why is this a planning or transportation issue? Well a part of the Transportation Act - The Safe Affordable Flexible Transportation Equity Act (SAFETEA-LU) - created the Federal Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program in August of 2005. By the following year, most States had established full-time State SRTS Coordinator positions. This led to the opportunity for states to create and put forth an evaluation program that would provide State SRTS Coordinators standardized school travel data collection forms and a centralized data management system.

Soon after the establishment of the Federal SRTS Program, in 2006, the National Center for Safe Routes to School launched a data collection system to support and evaluate local program planning  and to monitor student commute patterns nationwide. Seven years after the start of the Federal program, the National Center analyzed more than 525,000 parent surveys from nearly 4,700 schools to look for changes in travel patterns and parent perceptions about walking to school. A full report, Trends in Walking and Bicycling to School from 2007 to 2012, reviews the findings from these surveys. www.saferoutesinfo.org. Some key findings over that period include:

  • The percentage of parents who stated that their child's school supported walking and bicycling between home and school increased from 24.9 to 33 percent.
  • Students attending low-income schools were the most likely to walk to/from school, whereas students attending high-income schools (defined as enrolling fewer than 40 percent of students who were eligible to receive free or reduced price meals) were the most likely to bicycle to/from school.
  • Walking to and from school increased significantly. From 12.4% to 15.7% in the morning; and from 15.8% to 19.7% in the afternoon.

Overall, the study recommended that communities, schools, and parents not only support kids walking and bicycling to school but help publicize the effort and establish innovative ways to allow parents and/or adults to monitor/chaperone kids in their walk to school.

One particular successful program resides in Champaign and Urbana IL. Champaign and Urbana Safe Routes to School Project (C-U SRTS Project) started approximately ten years ago. C-U SRTS Project is an organization with representatives from the

  • CU Mass Transit District,
  • Champaign County Regional Planning Commission,
  • CU Public Health District,
  • Urbana and Champaign planning, engineering and law enforcement agencies,
  • Champaign County Bikes,
  • Urbana and Champaign School Districts,
  • Individual educators, parents, and community members.

The project came about after four years of organizing Walk & Bike to School Day in Champaign and Urbana schools and stakeholders deciding that there was more that could be done to educate the community on pedestrian and bicycle safety issues.

Rebecca P. Nathanson served as a planner for the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District. The district has established safe route to school plans for a number of elementary schools in the district and a number of promotional activities include bike to school day, bike on bus, etc. According to Ms. Nathanson, "it is important that people in the community are encouraged to drive less and feel comfortable in letting their children walk or bike to school."

Planning such a program encompasses the 3Es approach to program success:

  • Enforcement - Working closely with the police department
  • Engineering - It is important that the infrastructure be in place for such a program. Principles behind Complete Street programs are a good starting point.
  • Evaluation - Collecting data results from the parents and engaging them in the program.

The key is to have volunteer parents, PTA members and even college students serve as chaperones to accompany the children when they bike or walk to school

Ms. Nathanson further explains that the PedNet  Coalition is the leading model for Walking School Bus Programs. Walking School Bus is a program in which a group of children walk to and from school under adult supervision, and funded by the Missouri Foundation for Health. "We worked with one of their staff to help design ours in Urbana.  The program served one school, Leal Elementary, in the pilot, but we are hoping to expand to two additional schools this fall of 2014."

Additionally "there was some resistance to the C-U SRTS Project and some schools were more difficult to engage into the program. You need champion (s) who know the community and are able to provide leadership in promoting a change in thinking."

Success in safe routes to school is not exclusive to the Champaign Urbana area. National Safe Routes to School in 2010 reported as follows.

In Alpine UT, Alpine Elementary saw a reduction of morning traffic at the school by 59 vehicles.  In Boulder CO, they experienced a 36% reduction in traffic at the Bear Creek elementary school. Atlanta GA's Oak Grove Elementary School witnessed a 10% reduction in student drop-off traffic at school. Longmont CO Eagle Crest Elementary saw a 40% reduction in traffic and 60% reduction in students arriving to school by car. Other results and more detail behind some of these success stories are available at the SRTS Evaluation Guide http://guide.saferoutesinfo.org/evaluation/index.cfm

The big issue, of course, is money. These programs are supported quite a bit through federal grants and there is no guarantee that money will continue. Communities have to decide if it is worth the money and the time to plan and implement these programs. From my personal experience, I believe the students who participate in a SRTS program would benefit now and potentially later in life.  Their experience of walking or biking to school can stay with them as they learn to live a more healthy and sustainable life. It will take some effort and a serious reconsideration of priorities for the future but communities can integrate these programs any way they want. It takes a little motivation and, as always, a champion to support and promote the effort.

I want to thank Rebecca P. Nathanson for her thoughts behind the C-U SRTS Project and some of the statistics for this blog.  More information is available at www.cu-srtsproject.com.

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Land Use and Obesity – Is there a Connection?

First posted November 2013

As I sit hear after surgery on my hand and not going to the gym or riding my bike for over a week, I do feel a bit like a slug. Am I now contributing to part of the obesity problem that is taking place in this country? Probably not.

The debate has been going for over 15 years regarding the cause of the current obesity epidemic, especially in children. Like many arguments that take place on the national stage, it seems to be one thing exclusively or another, very few seem to bring up the fact that there could be a combination of forces. For instance, why does this country seem to have so many shooting rampages across the country? Is it the easy availability of guns, mental illness, de-sensitivity to violence due to movies and video games, etc. For many cases, it is probably a combination of all these parameters and more.

How have the growth patterns over the past 50 years or so contributed to the widening of our waste lines, if at all? How is it that we are not encouraged to go outdoors and exercise and enjoy the fresh air? That is if the air outside is fresh and clean. But that discussion is due for another time.

I want to acknowledge a paper written in August of 2004 entitled “Obesity relationships with community design, physical activity, and time spent in cars” authored by Frank LD, Andresen MA, Schmid TL as part of School of Community and Regional Planning, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15261894. The objective of the report is “To evaluate the relationship between the built environment around each participant's place of residence and self-reported travel patterns (walking and time in a car), body mass index (BMI), and obesity for specific gender and ethnicity classifications.

I identified this paper since the researchers used the BMI index as a research parameter for this issue. I may be wrong but this is one of the earliest reports in using that. Was the BMI common knowledge at that time of the early 2000s? BMI is defined as an index used to indicate whether a person is over- or underweight. It is obtained by “dividing a person's weight in kilograms by the square of their height in meters. An index of 20-25 is normal. Anyway, this is the method used in their research.

The meta data described in their abstract was as follows:

“Body Mass Index, minutes spent in a car, kilometers walked, age, income, educational attainment, and gender were derived through a travel survey of 10,878 participants in the Atlanta, Georgia region. Objective measures of land use mix, net residential density, and street connectivity were developed within a 1-kilometer network distance of each participant's place of residence. A cross-sectional design was used to associate urban form measures with obesity, BMI, and transportation-related activity when adjusting for socio-demographic covariates. Discrete analyses were conducted across gender and ethnicity. The data were collected between 2000 and 2002 and analysis was conducted in 2004.”

The results were as follows: “Land-use mix had the strongest association with obesity (BMI >/= 30 kg/m (2)), with each quartile increase being associated with a 12.2% reduction in the likelihood of obesity across gender and ethnicity. Each additional hour spent in a car per day was associated with a 6% increase in the likelihood of obesity. Conversely, each additional kilometer walked per day was associated with a 4.8% reduction in the likelihood of obesity “. The report concluded that the measure of the built environmental and travel patterns are important indicators of obesity across gender and ethnic lines. And the strength of the relationship may vary among ethic and gender. Not surprisingly the report concluded that any policy or vision to increase land use mix and distance walked while reducing time in a car can be effective as health interventions. It can help, but it is not the sole solution. This conclusion seems logical.

But these findings have been disputed. A research report commissioned by the Heritage Foundation suggested that urban sprawl has been happening since the 1950s yet the obesity problem has become an issue over the past 10 years or so. This was in response to a report issued by Smart Growth America about the same time as the previous study was released. Again, this is in early 2000. Their point really is that America’s obesity crisis cannot be the result of urban development trends that have changed little since 1960. Frankly, I think development patterns have changed over the past 10 – 20 years, especially in the outer suburban counties in Northern Virginia.

I do think that the researchers make a good point that Smart Growth America pointing to urban sprawl as being a major force in creating the obesity epidemic we see today may be somewhat a stretch. I really can’t say if people living in high density walkable cities are thinner that their suburban brethren. It is easy to deduce that the availability of processed food and or food with high sugars and fats has brought about the obesity problem. I do see that urban sprawl is not encouraging people to bike or walk more. No, I can’t say suburban sprawl has caused our obesity problem, but it probably has been a factor in our inability to address the problem.

I would recommend that planners, planning commissioners and elected officials work with their citizens and residents to determine what their options are in addressing the issue of obesity and promoting healthy living such as more biking and walking. Be proactive, examine your options how to make your community healthier. This could take several modes such as providing and maintaining publicly owned parks or recreational facilities, promoting locally grown foods, addressing food deserts in lower income neighborhoods, etc. It is up to community leaders to decide how much a healthier community is worth to them. Then plan and implement these approaches to achieve that goal. In many cases, you may not have to invent the wheel, you may be doing some of these approaches already.

Again, you need to remember that you and your community are empowered to make your community healthier; and it may not require draconian steps. It is not a conservative or liberal issue. But it is an issue as we attempt to keep health care costs down. Even if we can't say there is a direct link to land use and healthy living, making it easier for residents and citizens to walk up to an additional mile per day, surely couldn't hurt. For more information on design for healthier communities, please see http://www.activelivingbydesign.org/.