by Paul Willis
Obesity. It is not just the larger belt sizes required for our expanding collective North American waistlines that strain society’s ability to manage health and fiscal bottom lines. How about the more than ‘hefty’ amounts asked of us all at the gas pumps? Or, how about the ‘oversized’ portion of our city and provincial budgets needed to maintain our streets and highways? If you were to say that these three ‘weighty’ problems have doubled in magnitude in the last 20 years, my research tells me you would be very close to reality.
Three problems that defy solutions that are not overly expensive, are not threats to quality of life, or do not take extreme personal sacrifice. There may some remedies for one problem but not all. Add the challenge of helping make Cranbrook carbon-neutral and we’ve got four problems. Yet, there is one easy measure many of us could do tomorrow to begin our weight loss programs for all four: leave your car at home and walk, bus, or bike to your place of work, your shopping destination, or your recreational goal.
Implementing walking or taking transit into our daily habits are easily understood and straightforward but using a bicycle in a non-recreational mode needs careful consideration in terms of efficiency and safety. The lack of a bicycle network of routes, lanes, or paths in Cranbrook make this option challenging. The question arises, “should our city put more emphasis on encouraging and providing infrastructure for this alternative form of transportation”?
One answer comes from 900 participants representing 47 countries who met in March, 2011 in Seville, Spain. This collection of healthcare professionals, municipal employees, and urban planners met to find solutions to global health challenges, threats to the environment, and unsustainable economies. “The bicycle, along with improved cycling infrastructure and the promotion of cycling itself, was repeatedly cited as the most practical tool to effect social and economic change to nagging problems such as energy dependency, climate change, and obesity.”
Thankfully, there is an abundant amount of case studies, mostly in the United States, of communities that have wrestled with this question before us and have conducted cost/benefit analyses from which we can learn. Here are some relevant findings:
· Cycling is cheaper than building/maintaining roads. The more cyclists the less concrete we need to pour. The less concrete, the more money for deficit reduction, or tax cuts ; or for additional bike projects.
· A study in one community showed that properties located near bike paths increased in value by 11% more than similar properties not near such facilities. In our area, one only has to look at this selling point for properties in Kimberley or Marysville located close to the North Star Trail (aka, “Rails-to-Trails”).
· A 3% reduction in traffic can result in a 30% reduction in traffic congestion.
· Cycling reduces heart disease and other costly health problems.
Conclusion - tomorrow