A Good Place for Everyone to Walk

Posted 10/29/15 by Jay Walljasper in Health and Wellness, Policy

New York City DOT Safety City (traffic and pedestrian safety) class | Photo courtesy NYCDOT | CC by 2.0

October is Trails, Parks and Outdoor Spots Month, with a focus on walking. We're pleased to publish this excerpt from Jay Walljasper's recent article on the lack of safe routes for walking in disadvantaged communities, and why it's important for America to level the playing field. The full article is available online on the America Walks website.

Join us in the national conversation on walking by using the hashtag #outdoorwalks on social media.

Movement for health and happiness for low-income families, people of color and immigrants

People have walked for justice and economic opportunity throughout American history.

Workers wanting a better life for their families walked on picket lines and at protests, rallied by advocates like Cesar Chavez. People demanding civil rights marched in Selma, Alabama, and Washington, D.C., led by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. 

Photo courtesy Woodley Wonderworks | CC by 3.0

Walking is a powerful tool to change the world as well as a fundamental human right. To be restrained from free movement is a denial of our liberties and a betrayal of American ideals.

Yet many disadvantaged people now think twice before traveling on foot due to dangerous traffic, street crime or a lack of stores and public places within walking distance, which heightens serious problems of poor health, limited transportation options and overall disillusionment in their communities.

A wealth of recent medical research, highlighted in the U.S. Surgeon General’s recent Call to Action on Walking, promotes walking as a way to prevent chronic disease, heart disease, diabetes, depression and some cancers. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone walk or engage in other moderate exercise half an hour a day, five days a week. (An hour a day for children.)

Poor conditions for walking among low-income households, people of color and some immigrant communities limit their access to jobs and education. One-third of all African-Americans and one-quarter of all Latinos live without access to a car, according to a report by the Leadership Conference Education Fund, which means walking and public transit (which involves a walk) represent important pathways to opportunity. 

Improving walking options can also help ease the financial burdens on poor families, which spend 42 percent of their income on transportation compared to 22 percent among middle-income Americans. That’s because the average cost of owning and operating one car is $8,700 a year.

“This is an issue of equity,” says Gil Peñalosa, founder of 8 80 Cities and an immigrant from Colombia. “A big thing we could do to help low-income families is to make it easier to live without a car. And it would help middle-class families to switch from two cars to one.”

Making America more walkable for people of all incomes and races is a major focus of the National Walking Summit, held in Washington, D.C. Oct. 28-30, 2015. Our mission is “to make sure walking is accessible for everyone, especially vulnerable populations in lower socioeconomic communities where infrastructure has not been invested in and pedestrian and public safety are significant issues,” says Tyler Norris, one of the event's organizers …

Read Jay Walljasper's full article online on the America Walks website.

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