23: Healthy Communities place a priority on Healthy Transportation.

Safe Walking and Biking

Many of Brandon’s residential streets don’t have sidewalks, and as I make my way on my bike, hugging the left lane, detouring around parked cars, feeling the cars whizz by, I’m motivated to stay alert. I pass by kids walking, perhaps on their way to school. All of us essentially negotiating traffic.

Is that any way to encourage walking and cycling?

The fact is that sidewalks encourage walking. Rather than paying lip service (rather weak kneed lip service at that) to “Participaction”, we should be doing what we know works.

The founders of our city, the engineers that made the plans and built the streets, wouldn’t have dreamed of building a residential street without sidewalks. Even in the smallest of villages you find sidewalks. When did that change?

Two things happened. We all got cars and we loved them. About the same time we started letting developers plan neighbourhoods with only token oversight by city planners. Walking, like all forms of purposeful physical activity, was just not cool, so sidewalks were an unnecessary expense. We could take our car everywhere. I’m not sure if it was expected that ten year olds would soon have licenses, or if it was understood that we would drive our kids around.

We spend million on road and streets. We’re destroying our planet. We can afford sidewalks.

On average eleven pedestrians per year are killed in Manitoba.  The city of Toronto recently decided that one thing they could do is lower the speed limit to 30 km per hr. in residential areas. Right away opponents of the move are calling it a war on cars. Well according to the death tolls the war is on us and we are losing.

It won’t completely solve the problem but I think there are other issues that make lower speed limits a good first step.  It’s not just about safety. It’s about building a more liveable city. It’s about encouraging responsible behavior. It’s about our health, and our environment.

All the experts are telling us to get off our lazy asses and walk, run or bike instead of taking the car. It’s good for us. It’s good for the earth. It saves money. I think it’s more fun. But even in areas with good sidewalks or walk paths (another topic) we share every intersection with cars. I see kids on their way to school, seniors getting some exercise, and I’ve wondered for some time about the logic of having the same speed limit on residential streets as we have on major arteries.

I know people who won’t bike on city streets. I know people who drive their kids to school, even when the distance is short. We need to change that. We need to make it easier for people to do the right thing. We need to make walking, running and biking a more pleasurable and safe activity.

Anyone out there on foot can immediately see that 50 km per hr. is an unreasonable speed when cars are sharing a space with humans.

We need to stop catering to car addicts and start thinking of ways to encourage alternatives.