Why don’t we walk and cycle more?

I rode my bike everywhere when I was growing up.  As a teen I loved the independence it gave me.  I never thought or cared about the health or environmental benefits. My kids never ride their bikes.  And I seldom ride my bike any more even though I know it would be great exercise.  The health literature tells me that my kids and I are not alone.

We live in a great community in the suburbs of west Hamilton  We have easy access to conservation areas, a park behind our house, and great neighbours. When I want to get some exercise, I walk in the conservation area.  My kids get “exercise” when they play soccer, hockey and “man-hunt” in the park.  But it can be difficult to find time every day to get to the conservation area; hockey and soccer are not offered year round; and man-hunt only happens once every week or two.  So, how do we build physical activity into our daily lives?

When I lived in downtown Toronto, I never had to think about getting exercise.  I was physically active every day; walking to and from the subway for work; walking up to the Danforth for groceries, to do banking, go out for dinner, rent a video; walking to the park for pleasure; walking to my friend’s homes.  In downtown Toronto, with its high population density, mixed land uses, and efficient transit service, we walked and used transit everywhere because it was easier to walk and use transit than to drive.  Walking was a way of life and something I sorely miss.

While downtown Dundas is very walkable, there are few destinations within walking distance of my suburban neighbourhood.  For most of the short trips that we make on a regular basis, we drive.  The grocery stores, library, swimming pool, bank, drug store, hockey and restaurants are just a little too far to walk (i.e. 30 to 40 minutes).  Now, they are not too far to cycle to, but we never use our bikes either.  The road that joins us to all of these services is very narrow and steep with no shoulder; it  has fast-moving traffic and no continuous sidewalk on our side of the road.

I’m not making excuses.  I’m trying to understand why our travel behaviour has changed so much from our last home.  We lived in downtown Milton for six years before the current boom.  At that time, there was a bike path that encircled the entire town and a bike path through the southern part of town.  We rode our bikes often to school, to the dentist, to the chiropractor, and to my sister’s home that was on the northern perimeter of town.  We did that because we could; because it felt safe with bike paths that were separated from the road; because it was fun to do and great exercise.

When I read the health literature, I see my family’s experience and travel behaviour reflected in the statistics.  People who live in compact, mixed use neighbourhoods walk more for utilitarian reasons.  More women and children ride their bicycles for utilitarian purposes when they have bike lanes or bike paths that feel safe to travel.  What the health literature does not capture is how liberating, fun and pleasant it can be to live in a community where one travels by walking and cycling.

With the Federation of Canadian Municipalities concluding that transportation infrastructure in this country requires about $91 billion in investment, perhaps it is a good time for all of us to be thinking about the many benefits – health, environmental, and economic – that could be realized if we made walkable neighbourhoods and pedestrian and cycling infrastructure a priority in this country (http://www.canadainfrastructure.ca/en/index.html).

Prepared by Kim Perrotta, Executive Director (Volunteer), Creating Healthy and Sustainable Environments (CHASE) Kim Perrotta/LinkedIn

One comment

  1. Very true, I hate having to bike around suburbs because of the speed of the cars and narrowness of the lanes. Driving, unfortunately, seems safer and more efficient in these areas… It’s a shame.

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