On the plus side: you'll never wear out a pair of shoes in a post-WWII suburb:
Car-loving Charlotte, N.C., home to strip malls and suburban sprawl, did everything right when putting in place its new light-rail transit system called the Lynx in 2007. The result: a ridership that doubled predictions, and an unexpected public health study that may be the first in proving that the built environment causes obesity.
Riding the rails can leave users an average of 6.5 pounds lighter than others, and 81 percent less likely to become obese over time, according to the study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Before this study, it was difficult to say for certain whether the features of the built environment, such as sprawl and miles of roadway, are directly responsible for obesity and related illness such as cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.
In its first year, at the peak of the gasoline price rise, Charlotte's Lynx saw about 18,100 riders, which was double the number expected, said Robert Stokes, researcher at University of Pennsylvania's department of culture and communication, and co-author of the study. The numbers have maintained. The city did all the right things when putting in place the light-rail system, Stokes said. It chose to put the line close to places where people lived, which increases ridership, according to studies. The corridor stretches 9.6 miles and has 15 stops.
Charlotte also changed its zoning laws to allow development closer to rail stations, and a greater concentration of units. It was a policy change, said Stokes. Since World War II, zoning laws in the nation promoted a separation between commercial, residential and recreational land use in the built environment, leading to more sedentary lifestyles. About half of all Americans do not get enough physical activity to promote health, and about 25 percent do not get any exercise at all, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 2007 statistics.
At Thursday night's Trails Committee meeting, I got into an exchange with a member of the Franklin Parks Commission regarding trails. Though this individual -- an alderman -- is also on the Trails Committee, he expressed his belief that the Trails Committee is in "direct conflict," "confrontation," and "competition" with the Parks Commission for Impact Fee dollars.
"We're not partnering with anybody," he said.
I was a little disturbed, to say the least. It appears that the city of Franklin needs to decide if trails and bike paths are mere recreational facilities (which has been the trend thus far, and seems to be the viewpoint of the Parks Commission, whose trail network thus far connects nothing useful), or if they are to be treated as useful, connective infrastructure, which I believe is the goal of the Trails Committee.
Agenda item 1 for the next meeting: Discuss cooperative efforts and collaboration with the Parks Commission.
Also in attendance at Thursday's meeting was Alderman Steve Olson, there to contend that the Trails Commission initial mission is limited to 51st Street and the area around Pleasant View Elementary. Our agenda inexplicably included a discussion of sidewalks on Puetz Road, which disturbed him.
Alderman Olson made a point that needed making: The Trails Committee has accomplished the limited goals originally spelled out for it, and we need to go back to the Common Council to expand our scope city-wide. We'll be making our case at a future Council meeting.
In the meantime, a link to a story about bike paths as community-strengthening infrastructure:
Joyride is about her 20-year journey helping to lead Portland, Oregon's transformation into the country's most bike-friendly city and then spreading the gospel (and the tools) so that all communities can integrate bicycling into everyday living.
Why? So that the places we live, work and play can be healthy, affordable, safe and splendid. Safe and splendid. Those are Mia's words.
Safe and splendid. That's a wonderful vision because at a minimum, our communities deserve to be safe for people traveling in different ways. But why stop there? Let's make them splendid, healthy, affordable places where people of all ages have freedom to move in a landscape that is not polluted and congested but alive with activity, commerce and beauty.
Portland built its entire 300-mile network of bike ways for the cost of a single mile of urban freeway.
Bicycles are the great connectors. If a community is rich in people who feel comfortable bicycling, you know it's a community rich in connections. Bicycling has the power to reshape ourselves and our communities from flabby to fabulous.
One of my favorite passages quotes the head of the Chamber of Commerce of a Houston suburb built around the oil refinery industry. That hefty man gets up in a public meeting about a new bicycle and pedestrian plan and declares "I've got my SUV idling outside. I just came for the free donuts."
Then he says: "Seriously, y'all. I'm a business person, and this is what I'm hearing: Businesses say they can't attract workers to come live here if we don't provide parks, exercise and safe places for their kids to ride. Bottom line: Businesses need fit and healthy employees, not couch potatoes."
SPRAWLED OUT is proud to be included in a list of the "top 50 urban policy wonk bloggers" as compiled by the Public Servant Blog. I posted their entire list after the break for easy bookmarking:
Public administration is an interesting field, filled with a number of opportunities and challenges. Among those challenges is making urban policy. The way we live in our cities, how they are planned, and how the people are taken care of are all things that go along with a job in public administration. If you are interested in urban policy, and learning more about what goes into it, here are 50 bloggers that can provide insight, and help you create urban planning success:
Common sense from former Wisconsin Republican Gov. Lee Sherman Dreyfus's chief economist. (It's especially interesting to read comments following her article by Joe Sixpack deploying "intuition" and right wing "boondoggle" talking points against an MIT-trained economist. What's that you say, Mr. Sixpack; Freeways and highways are not subsidized?!?!)
Following an excerpt from the BizTimes column, I've posted a comment by Gateway to Milwaukee's Tom Rave in full.
All too often, leaders of established businesses act like horses pulling carriages in New York City’s Central Park, wearing blinders to avoid distractions. Which brings me, a political independent, to the narrow thinking of Wisconsin’s Republican Gubernatorial candidates on high-speed rail transit connecting Milwaukee, Madison, Chicago and, eventually, Minneapolis, St. Paul. The two candidates are loudly against the investment at the federal and state levels, while their Democratic opponent favors this investment.
The Republican candidates, along with other opponents of high-speed rail, argue that no Wisconsinite is going to take the train to go see his mother or make a client visit in another city, because cars are faster and more convenient. As a result, the trains will be a financial disaster. These critics are thinking about the future with eyes on past and current behavior. They are judging the behavior of the current workforce, not thinking about those who elected to not to live in Wisconsin or how our workforce will change as the baby boom cohort retires.
As a result, critics are missing the entire argument for why trains are essential to Wisconsin’s future.
Wake up Scott Walker and Mark Neumann. Beyond the close to $1 billion of needed economic stimulus, the trains will make our two largest metro areas a more attractive location to live, work, and play, drawing outsiders to our region and slowing if not reversing the “brain drain” that is worrying the majority of people in the state.
Comment by Tom Rave, Executive Director of Gateway to Milwaukee:
It is true that the Midwest Rail System, of which the Milwaukee to Madison expansion is a part, will not be "world class" high speed. That would be much more expensive, such as the system authrorized by the voters in California, for example. Yet Amtrak between Milwaukee and Chicago is not "high speed" but is being chosen by more and more riders, even without high gasoline prices currently. Plans for the Midwest Rail System do call for higher speeds than the current ones.
Instead of focusing just on Milwaukee to Madison, as Kay Plantes suggests we need to look at the longer-term bigger picture about Wisconsin being competitive.
Here's an interesting anecdote. A local entrepreneur had a business plan and a need for $5 million in capital. Potential investors from Seattle were very interested, willing to invest $2.5 million and paid for research on greater Milwaukee. Their strong preference was to start the company in Chicago, possibly start it in Madison, but they had no interest in Milwaukee. The plan called for hiring 60 young IT and creative design professionals in 120 days and they did not want to take the risk of doing so in Milwaukee. A primary reason was the concern about transportation for these young people - generations X & Y - around Milwaukee and even between Chicago and Milwaukee (the KRM would have been a solution). So the business ultimately started in Chicago - 200 feet from a train station.
The basic point is that because southeast Wisconsin is inadequate in its overall transportation structure versus other metropolitan areas, the start-up capital and the jobs went somewhere else.
It is interesting to see that the mayor of St. Paul, MN, a commissioner of Ramsey County, a mayor of an eastern suburb of the Twin Cities, a MN state legislator, the MN DOT and others are collaborating to do a study, funded by $1.4 million of federal funds, to decide what is the optimal combination of transportation modes along the I-94 corridor between the Twin Cities and Eau Claire, which is where they anticipate that the Midwest Rail System will run. The Twin Cities is growing, in spite of also having high taxes - we are not. But they are also taking a collaborative approach in looking at the future.
In looking at Wisconsin, we need to develop a collaborative plan about future transportation needs so that we will be economically competitive. Otherwise we will just continue to have disparate and emotion-filled arguments about different and uncoordinated alternatives as we do now, where decisions seem to be arbitrarily and independently made. By that I'm referring to the current unconnected discussions the Midwest Rail expansion, the downtown Milwaukee streetcar, the shrinking Mke Co Transit System and the foundering Southeast Wisconsin Regional Transit Authority. A strong collaboration of business, government and political leadership with a shared vision toward a long-term goal of economic competitiveness are needed.
Is there an opportunity for those running for office?
When a band puts out an album called THE SUBURBS, you know I'm going to get email about it. I'll eventually buy the album (or download the iTunes - - what do we say nowadays?), but not because I'm looking for insight into the suburban experience. I just like Arcade Fire.
Don't wait around when it comes to their promotional website, though. It's an interactive film of sorts that integrates GoogleMaps and your childhood neighborhood. Go play.
To say the chart above is startling is an understatement. The date in the "before" map is not 1935, or even 1975 -- you're looking at the spread of obesity in the time since THE SIMPSONS have been on TV.
That, my friends, is an epidemic.
Research proves that sprawl is significantly associated with inactivity and obesity, now perhaps the nation's foremost public health menace. The results of overweight and obesity include increased coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancers (endometrial, breast, and colon), hypertension, dyslipidemia, stroke, liver and Gallbladder disease, sleep apnea and respiratory problems, osteoarthritis, and gynecological problems (abnormal menses, infertility). Research also shows that walkable neighborhoods and transit improve fitness and the health of communities. Sure sounds important to me.