Where and Why Walking or Biking to Work Makes a Difference

It’s been more than seven years since Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett put his entire city on a diet and invested in wider sidewalks, better bike routes, and a larger park to encourage fitness. For politicians and urbanists alike, the connection between the shape of our cities and the shape of our bodies is clear. Those of us who live in sprawling suburbs and commute to work by car are less likely to be healthy, while those of us who live in dense urban neighborhoods end up healthier because we’re more likely to bike or walk to work.

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Unless, that is, people in compact urban areas don’t actually walk or bike to work a great deal more, even though it’s a readily available option.

A new study by Timothy Wojan and Karen Hamrick from the U.S. Department of Agriculture takes a close look at the connections between urban form—especially compact cities and metros—and the level at which people walk or bike to their jobs. To get at this, the researchers use detailed data from the American Time Use Survey that collects information on how Americans spend their time, including the kinds of activities in which people engage and what they eat.

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Step by Step How Mexico City Became More Pedestrian-Friendly

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P1000521We love stories about people taking action to solve a city’s problems, and stories about the pedestrianization of cities. This story ticks both those boxes.

Thorsten Englert is a German architect who has been based in Mexico City for 10 years. He has a passion for designing sustainable buildings and, as he puts it, the “spaces between buildings”.

In addition to running his architectural practice in the Roma district of Mexico City, Thorsten teaches architecture and urban design at UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico). The campus in the south of the city is also a UNESCO heritage site.

Like up to 100,000 other pedestrians, Englert’s daily journey to the university takes him by bus to the Doctor Galvez Metrobus Station, and by foot the rest of the way. Englert became fed up risking life and limb daily on this treachurous commute to class, and from the contiuous sore throat caused by the pollution. The walk simply isn’t designed for pedestrians.

Pedestrian crossings are unsafe, and pavements (side-walks) are narrow and usually blocked by street vendors, forcing pedestrians onto the busy streets. The traffic-congested roads act as barriers, rather than links between the university, the station, and the surrounding neighbourhood. There had to be a better way.

Englert and his team saw an opportunity for this part of Mexico City. They asked, why not create a secure pedestrian zone for pedestrians between the station and the university, that would also link a variety of urban spaces together, thus creating a new sequence of public spaces?

The area around UNAM is home to many office buildings, residential neighbourhoods, student housing and several parks. The project has the potential to create a new point of attraction for students, residents, office workers and commuters.

Englert’s approach to urban planning is to look holistically at the economic, social and environmental aspects of a project. In this project the economic aspect includes giving economic opportunity to the local community, such a street vendors; the social – creating attractive public spaces for all users; and the environmental – greening the area, cleaning up the air and reducing traffic.

The plan would provide prime locations for local vendors to cater to the large flow of pedestrian traffic. New squares and a community centre would provide public spaces. Transport-wise, the plan would offer better access to the Metrobus station for passengers, therefore increasing its use, and gives Ecobici, Mexico City’s bike-share network, a launch-pad to expand to the south of the city.

Cities Where People Walk and Cycle are Healthier

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Cities with more physically active residents are financially healthier too, a study has found, with benefits being higher property values, economic productivity levels and school performance.

commuter pan_1Where walking, cycling and public transport are prevalent, the University of California studyhas found, there is a return of £13 for every £1 invested in these projects.

Benefits for the cities include more trade for local shops, less traffic congestion and reduced pollution. Workers are more productive too, taking on average a week less off work per year.

Chad Spoon, from the University of California’s Active Living research unit, said: “A city’s ability to compete depends on an active population. The research is clear on this – it shows how an active city can be a low-cost, high-return investment.”

The paper also suggests opening more parks and open spaces; providing bike lanes and public bike schemes; and helping ensure children live closer to their schools, the Guardian reports.