Surgeon General to Designers: Promote More Walking
October 3, 2015
Faced with an obesity epidemic and rising pedestrian fatalities, the U.S. Surgeon General recently issued a “call to action” urging designers and other professionals to do whatever is in their power to support walkable communities.
People who are physically active have about a 30% lower risk of early death than people who are active, according to the report, and walking presents one of the easiest and most common ways to get that exercise. However, having access to safe, desirable places to walk is increasingly difficult; in fact, of all traffic fatalities involving motor vehicle crashes, the share of pedestrian deaths has increased from 11% in 2004 to 14% in 2014.
The report offers the following guidelines for urban planners and architects:
- Direct people to opportunities for physical activity with “point-of-decision” prompts, such as messages that encourage taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Minimize block sizes and increase connectivity around transit hubs. A national study by the Center for Transit-Oriented Development reported that people who use public transit tended to spend around 21 minutes a day walking to and from their stop or station.
- Improve safety for children walking to school by building entrances and exits that do not flow directly into streets.
The report points to plenty of benefits to justify walkability upgrades beyond health, including increasing social cohesion, reducing air pollution, and boosting local economies.