Saturday, February 13, 2010

Fighting Childhood Obesity

Thanks to my friend Jessica for sending me the scoop on a newly published study in Preventative Medicine that investigated the link between traffic around the home and childhood obesity. The study tracked about 3,000 children from various communities in Southern California from age 9-10 to 18 to see how the built environment surrounding their homes affected their health.

The study shows a statistically significant correlation between the level of traffic within 150 meters of a child's home and their body mass index (BMI). Children living in areas with higher traffic density showed about a five percent increase in BMI.

The study authors suggest there could be a couple reasons for the correlation. Part of the problem could be that the high traffic levels instill a sense of fear in parents, who are then less likely to allow their children participate in "active" transportation (walking or biking) or outdoor play. Lung function could also play a role, as children exposed to air pollution from nearby traffic are more likely to have asthma, which may inhibit their ability to exercise.

Hopefully the first lady will keep this all in mind as she moves forward with her campaign (summarized here) against childhood obesity. Physical activity is a key component of the campaign, but without better community design it's going to be a hard task to get children to move more...

Friday, February 12, 2010

This Week on Foot

This week has brought us a hodgepodge of policies, innovations, and decisions, representing all that is good and bad for those of us on foot.

Starting on a positive note, we learn that there are Fewer pedestrian accidents in Reno recently, due at least in part to a hefty enforcement program between October and December of 2009.
The same is true across the world , where in Jamaica Road fatalities decrease by 20% over same period last year.

Things don't look so good in North Dakota, where a Bicycling-pedestrian bill tabled. The bill would have required drivers to give bikes a pedestrians a three-foot clearance while passing.

Of course, things are even worse in South Dakota, where a Proposal gives drivers pedestrian protection. Yes you read that right, drivers would be protected from pedestrians--who would lose some of their crosswalk rights under the proposed bill.

At least South Dakota walkers don't live in Algeria, where Wayward Algerian pedestrians face hefty fines for crossing outside a marked crosswalk.

Fortunately one Oregon city has taken the opposite route, instructing drivers to Stop for pedestrians or face a fine.

Hawaii and North Carolina are also working to improve the pedestrian environment. In Honolulu 'Pedestrian flags' meant to make crossing Pali safer and in North Carolina an 'Enhancer' crosswalk gives pedestrians, cyclists help in crossing busy street. Volvo has also gotten into the game, creating a new system that spots pedestrians in the car's pathway and warns drivers to brake--or brakes for them: Volvo S60 has pedestrian tracking.

Such a system might have helped the woman in the Atlanta area who faces a Gwinnett first: Vehicular homicide charge for texting. Perhaps automatic brakes would have prevented the death of James Eaton, who was struck and killed by distracted driver Lori Reineke.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Ventura County Takes Notice

In a clear effort to win my heart, Scott Hadly titled his part of the Ventura County Star's feature on traffic safety "Driving riskiest thing people do, yet traffic safety gets little notice." Scott, you have no idea.

The series combines personal stories with hard data on 15 years of fatal crashes in Ventura County, even providing some fancy online spreadsheets for data geeks like me to play around with.

A few quick statistics:
  • Between 1994 and 2008 1,005 people were killed in Ventura County traffic crashes.
  • 208 of the fatalities were pedestrians--that's about 21 percent of all deaths. As I've complained about before, we don't make the effort to count how many people actually walk in Ventura County (or anywhere, for that matter), so it's hard to say just how disproportionate that is--but given that nationwide walk trips are around six percent of travel, we can assume that pedestrians are dying at much rates than they should be.
  • About a third of pedestrian fatalities were related to speeding. This shouldn't come as a surprise, as pedestrian death rates jump dramatically with speed. Traffic calming anyone?

Friday, February 5, 2010

This Week on Foot

This week begins with the end of the trial David Jassy. The Swedish rapper convicted of 2nd-degree murder claimed he acted in self defense when he attacked and killed pedestrian John Osnes, a story neither the witnesses nor the jury believed.

In happier news, Glendale Downtown alley to become more pedestrian friendly with new decorative pavers, lighting and benches. Business owners in the area plan to take advantage of the enhancements with outdoor concerts and other alley-oriented activities.

But enhancements in New London haven't been met with the same enthusiasm. Pedestrians still wary at Parade, even with classy crosswalks, because the town's new "talking" crosswalks and speed humps don't seem to be having the effect they were intended to.

Some Tulare pedestrians are also fed up with pedestrian improvements. The result? Tulare City Council votes to close pedestrian path after years of vandalism.

Pedestrians in Asia, on the other hand, are having the opposite problem. In Mumbai, Pedestrians ignored, roads preferred over footpaths. And in Jakarta, Pedestrian bridges don’t work for jaywalkers, who risk crossing at street level rather than deal with garbage, crime, and other problems associated with the city's bridges.

Monday, February 1, 2010

It's Not About the Hands

Today the LA Times reports on a new study by the Highway Loss Data Institute that shows no difference in crash rates following the adoption of California's hand-held cellphone ban. The results have been dismissed by some because of a small sample size (not to mention the fact that just because the law has been adopted, doesn't mean everyone is following it). However, many see the study as further evidence that the true danger of cell phones doesn't come from the way that they are held, but from how they are used while driving.

My personal efforts to give up the distracted driving habit are entering their second week, and so far so good. I admit to having a few moments of "Drat [or other, more forceful, curse word]! I really wish I could use my phone right now," but overall giving up the cell phone hasn't caused as much pain as I expected. The true test comes this weekend, when I have a two-hour drive to San Diego. Alone.