One thing that never surprises me is how often anti-car zealots fail to consider trade-offs before blindly screaming for their preferred policies. Take, for example, this puff piece by Streetsblog on walking advocacy group America Walks (could they have come up with a more boring, joyless sounding name? America Schleps, maybe?):
If that’s the future, it’s also the past. After all, as America Walks points out, “In 1969 walking made up 40 percent of all transportation trips, but in 2008 walking trips decreased to 11 percent.” Although walking is good for our heart rates and waistlines, modern road design can make it hazardous to our health: in the past 15 years, 76,000 pedestrians have been killed.
“We need to create places where you feel safe and comfortable walking along the street and even in the street, playing in the street,” says Bricker. “Crossing the street needs to be easy, accessible and safe.” He points to simple additions like crosswalks, raised median islands, and countdown signals as innovations that immeasurably improve the pedestrian experience.
Funding for active transportation has risen dramatically from 0.1 percent of the federal transportation program in 1992 to 2 percent this year. Considering the fact that 11 percent of all trips are by foot, America Walks wants to make sure walking gets its fair piece of the pie.
And though creating a strong identity among walkers can be challenging, Bricker says, “We don’t hear people saying, ‘this is not important, walking is not part of the transportation system.’ People understand that walking is a fundamental part of life.”
Of course, from 1950 to 2000, average American mobility increased from 6,900 miles traveled to 18,000 miles traveled — an increase of 160 percent. This largely had to do with expanded access to air travel thanks to deregulation of the industry and an increase in car ownership. Private auto ownership is perhaps the largest single determining factor in broadening employment opportunities, and has been heralded as one of the most important elements of the feminist revolution. As one would expect, walking plays a smaller role in mobility (and a far less crucial one) today than it did 40 years ago.
But to the eco-apocalypse true believers, obesity obsessed nanny-staters, and smart-growth social engineers, this is bad, bad, bad. To them, any non-auto transportation mode should be pushed at any cost, and driving must be made as difficult as possible. They cite the 76,000 pedestrian death figure, and use that — without caveat — to push for traffic calming measures. But the roads are not solely used by morbidly obese, drunk-driving, speed-freak, single-occupancy evildoers. Forget the commuting advantages, freight moved, and all the benefits that result. What about firetrucks and ambulances?
Several studies of traffic calming have concluded that slower, more congested traffic kills more people than it saves. In Austin, for example, it was estimated that for every pedestrian saved due to cars traveling at lower speeds, nearly 40 people would die as a result of slower EMS response times. Anyone familiar with cardiac arrest knows that seconds count. None of this seems to concern the anti-car set, whose motto appears to have become “livability or death.” Or is it “livability and death?”
Image credit: AntyDiluvian’s flickr photostream.