Of sidewalks and dieting

Leslie Carlson

Oldgrocerystore
A recent piece in the New York Times about the perils of long commutes from the exurbs made me think about a local doctor I know. This doctor, an internist, regularly sees patients with medical ailments that seem to spring from a basic lack of exercise and an unhealthy diet. We’ve all heard of these typical American complaints: high cholesterol, diabetes, weight gain.

Instead of offering surgery, a pill or further testing, however, this doctor takes a different tack. He asks his patients to start buying fresh vegetables, fruits and lean meats at their local grocery store and start cooking their meals from scratch, so they can control the amount of fat and other unhealthy ingredients. Second, this doctor asks his patients to try and walk to the grocery store to get their food, at least twice a week. In this way, they are getting regular exercise (no need to drive to a gym anymore). Last, this doctor asks them to try and find other ways to build walking into their lives: walking to pick their kids up from school, walking to and from work or walking to the bus stop.

Sadly, many of these patients think the doctor is a kook and look for another doctor who will just prescribe medication and send them on their way. Worse, however, are the many patients who want to comply but can’t. With no sidewalks and no grocery stores nearby, these patients are virtual prisoners of their cars. Fat and sick, they return to their homes and can’t even begin to follow the doctor’s advice, because walking isn’t an option.

“We’ve basically engineered physical movement out of our communities,” a public health worker told me. “Instead of encouraging people to walk or bike, we’ve made cars the only form of transportation that works.”

Much has been made in the past few years of the perils of high-fat, large-portion, sugar-laden American fast food. And undoubtedly, fatty, processed food is a huge part of the American obesity epidemic. But few people have looked at the possibility that the way we build our communities is killing us. By designing communities made for cars, we’ve made people fat.

The good doctor whose prescription for health involves fresh food and walking agrees. “In order for my patients to get healthy they need to be able to move. They can’t do that on a busy street that lacks sidewalks, on their way to a big box retail center located miles away.”

Comments

  • (Show?)

    Leslie, I'm totally with you here. America's incessent interest in the next great diet seem to be ways of avoiding exercise. Humans weren't engineered to be completely sedentary, and I've long speculated that exercise is a critical part of good health--both mental and physical.

  • Wes Wagner (unverified)
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    I can hardly believe the specious arguments I see here every day. If a person really wants to have a healthier lifestyle living in the suburbs, they will drive to a park, or hiking trails, or ride their bike around their neighborhood ... they can jog, walk up and down the street with a neighbor (get to know your neighbors people - if you want to)

    Sprawl - oh there I said the evil word - is economic liberty. People do not want to be stacked up in a sardine can high rise, and have to wait an extra 10 minutes on the front and tail end of every trip for mass transit. They want their cars because they like the freedom of mobility.

    In short, stop trying to make everyone else live the way you think they should, otherwise you are going to feel rather silly when you make an argument to them to let you do the same.

    Wes Wagner NW Meridian

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    It sounds silly, but cul-de-sacs are evil.

    Cul-de-sacs, that most desirable design feature in the 'burbs, cause traffic and make people fat.

    You see, in a world of cul-de-sacs, you're necessarily talking about the lack of a street grid. In a world of cul-de-sacs, you're necessarily talking about feeder streets leading to major highways. Those major highways, even if sidewalked, are psychologically oppressive (not to mention dangerous) to walk on.

    Need proof? East Portland has more people, living at a higher density, than Washington County. And yet, complaints of traffic pale in comparison to those in Washington County (where pollsters report it's the #1 political issue). Why? Cul-de-sacs versus grids.

    A grid system allows traffic to instantly spill onto other streets, whether nearby thoroughfares or neighborhood streets. The traffic dissapates and quickly gets back to traveling speed. (Ever zipped over to Belmont when Hawthorne was backed up? Can't do that on the T-V Highway...)

    Worst of all, cul-de-sacs mean that almost all trips necessarily mean major highways. You literally "can't get there from here" without heading out onto a major road. That has HUGE implications for kids walking to school, adults walking to the local market, etc.

    (And I sure do love how Wes suggests that 'burbanites can just drive somewhere to get their exercise in. Sure they can. But that's the whole point - they have to deliberately build it into their lives. In a mixed-use grid neighborhood, walking just happens. God knows, I'm as chubby as the next guy - but even I find myself walking the eight blocks to the Ben & Jerry's on Hawthorne in the summer.)

  • (Show?)

    Wes --

    I don't think Leslie suggests that we should make people live like her--or anyone else--but rather, argues that there are public health consequences of building communities where it is difficult, or sometimes impossible, to walk or bike to conduct our daily business. We know that Americans are too fat, and are getting fatter and that this generation of children actually has a shorter life expectancy than their parents.

    Given the seriousness of this potential public health crisis, it seems only reasonable that we examine a wide range of causes and propose solutions that address the problem from many angles.

  • Wes Wagner (unverified)
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    Why must we address the issue through a social governmental solution? Why can't people choose for their own to solve their own problems?

    If living in a district like SE Hawthorn is prefereable, people will rent and buy housing there - if the housing becomes too short of supply, people will develop neighborhoods designed like it to appeal to latent demand.

    I used to live downtown, and when my job was there and I could walk 18 blocks to work every day, I loved it. When the tax system became too oppressive that I couldn't find work that paid what I should, my job left town, and so did I.

    To be fair - the presumption that there is a public health crisis, implies that we have some economic liability as part of some social contract to pay for the costs of poor health. It cannot be positively argued rhetorically that point is true, so you must either ask that it be granted as a concession - in which case the planning may make sense. I do not agree with the collective obligation.

    I believe individuals are culpable and responsible for their own decisions.

    Wes Wagner

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    you gotta be kidding. the lovely, lost way of life wes is lamenting was created by the same government processes as the one that cost him his downtown job. when has government ever let citizens alone to live their lives in freedom? for tens of thousands of years, those few in power told the rest where they would live, what they would do, how much the leader(s) would get, and so on. the difference in our current system is that we don't let someone with a bigger club or a bigger gang kill off our leader and take over. in our system, we first force them to steal an election. (sorry, i couldn't help it.)

    the federal govt funded and built the interstate highways. federal and state govt funded and built the highways that carved up the rural lands and made possible the suburbs. govt gave tax breaks and legal considerations that let corporations build their downtown offices in the first place. every bit of "freedom" and "free trade" the so-called conservatives and libertarians mourn in the wake of big nasty liberalism was the result of self-interested government: the giveaway of the west, the slaughter of native peoples and their bison, the development of railways and industry. to whine that govt suddenly has begun to take away people's liberties and options is historically untrue. it's just a lame excuse.

  • (Show?)

    Nice post. The Bicycle Transportation Alliance is hoping to particpate in a grant experiment to serve as an "Active Prescription" provider.

    This follows a model from Australia, where doctors are encouraged to give their patients "prescriptions" to become active as part of their health care. That prescription is then filled: patients are then provided with information about how to bike or walk to be healthier, and check in regularly to get their questions answered.

    Leslie nails it: part of the problem is a disconnect between western medicine and lifestyle choices -- people are consistently told they can take a pill to solve their problems, instead of participating in active transportation or cooking.

  • Brandon R (unverified)
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    Wes, as much as people have been cultured to want suburbs, and as much as the "free market" (suburbia is in fact heavily subsidized) reifies that preference, the reality is that what people want does not mean they will get it, or get to keep it. As a small-L libertarian, I empathize with your call for letting people choose where they live. However, just because people choose where they live does not mean it's any good. What is popular is not always what is best.

    Now I'm certainly not saying I know what is best, or that government does, or that either government or myself should impose that onto those who choose suburbia. Indeed I rarely find government to be the answer. But it is just as silly to think that what people want to be best.

    PS, suburbia is a way of life which can ONLY be possible by way of cheap, abundant energy. Much to the chagrin of suburbia, we live in a closed system, and energy is finite. Thus, the way of life people have been choosing in America cannot last for very long. In fact, peak oil looks like it is about to make that reality quite tangible: see www.oiltruth.com for more.

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    A lot of us who live in the suburbs do it for several reasons:

    1) cost-- apartments cost quite a bit more in Portland than they do Gresham. I've had family members move out here recently from Portland because their small 1 bedroom apartment was going to cost more than our 2 bedroom, 2 bath. And our apartments have full sized washers and dryers & sewer, water, and trash is paid for. They had to pay for all of that and they had the small, stacked washer and dryer.

    2) crime-- we've moved to areas of the 'burbs with less crime. Apartments/homes that cost the same in Portland were often in areas with more crime.

    3) smaller towns-- some, like me, come from small towns. I'm not comfortable living in a big town. Just living in Gresham (which has almost 100,000 people) is big for me-- I grew up in a town of 8,000. Portland is just too big and crowded. I'd actually feel better living out in Clackamas County towards Sandy or Boring, but those are further from my husband's work.

    We're lucky enough, though, to live within a block of the Springwater Trail.

    There is a Safeway close, unfortunately there is a very steep hill between our place and the store. It's not very walkable. Going around onto Powell means no sidewalks (and a much longer walk). When we first moved here we walked over to where the Safeway was a few times while we awaited the insurance to go through on our new car. That was before having a toddler, my back deteriorating, and two surgeries. Now it's no longer walkable. I wish it was, though, as there are plenty of times in which I need items from the store and have no car.

  • BlueNote (unverified)
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    So ... the reason that I see all those slender beautiful people in the Pearl is because they walk to Whole Foods to buy their groceries? I would have guessed it was due to great genes, 24 Hour Fitness and selective plastic surgery, but what do I know. Back to the topic - like others have said, social engineering and growth management are easy to talk about but almost impossible to implement given our freedom of choice and the quiltwork of adjoining municipal governments. Sidewalks should be mandatory, but if one city requires them many people just buy a house in the next town over so they can save the $2000 that the sidewalks would have cost. Short sighted, but that is what happens. Have you checked out the giant new subdivisions in Sherwood lately? Newberg? Dundee?

  • Wes Wagner (unverified)
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    Well in the two wrongs don't make a right category - maybe we should stop using tax money to build roads and infrastructure for suburban developers, and also stop giving tax abatements to people trying to build downtown high rises on the backs of already existing loyal residents. Those tax abatements and economic development programs are paid by someone.

    While we are at it lets repeal oil subsidies and agriculture subsidies so people actually have to pay the real economic cost of consumption directly so they will behave in a more responsible manner when it comes to use decisions and waste.

    I could go on a long time, but won't - to some extent you either believe that government is the answer or people are the answer. Personally I have never seen the government solve any problems, but I have seen people do it - so I tend to disfavor giving more resources and responsibility to an organization that has continually failed.

    The last thing we need is social engineering in our private health decisions - which is the slippery slope socialized health care and intelligent exercise based city design leads us down. If the government is paying your doctor bills there is no life choice they will not feel entitled to control. Maybe like poor Winston from 1984 we will have to find a corner to hide away from the viewscreens if we want to light up a doobie.

    -Wes Wagner

  • Becky (unverified)
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    At first glance this would seem to be correct, but I think our problem is more cultural, not infrastructural (is that a word?). We're increasingly a consuming people, rather than a producing people. Think of our increase in credit card debt, the increase in average portion sizes, the increase in indulging in treats, the increasing reliance on convenience foods and fast food, the increase in media intake (television, video games, Internet, text messaging, I-pod, Sirius satellite, etc.) and the concurrent decresae in willingness to experience any discomfort, such as getting off one's fanny and doing something. It's no mystery why we're all getting fat and sick, and I don't think it would change just because we had sidewalks. A lot of people point to New York as an example of urban life with less obesity. I think that is purely a result of the fact that New Yorkers have no choice. The rest of America does, and aside from a few conscientous folks who prioritize their health, we're generally choosing to do as little as possible because we can.

    I think the answer is in making a healthy, active lifestyle fun. For example, we have had many struggles trying to get our kids to play outside this time of year because they don't want to be cold and would rather sit in the living room eating popcorn and playing video games. But we just got them paintball guns and now they want to be out running around and being active in the woods nearby as much as possible, no matter how cold it is. In the summer, it's the freedom of their bicycles that gets them out of the house. My husband and I stay fit by going out dancing (vigorously) a couple of days a week and hunting as often as we can. In the summer we go roller blading with the kids. And now, of course, we play paintball with them, too. That's fun exercise. That will get you off the couch. Sidewalks wouldn't make any difference at all for us.

  • (Show?)

    Lived in downtown Portland, Scappoose, Beaverton, Tualatin, with sidewalks, without, and manage to log around 40 miles of jogging a week. Since I am responsible for my health and diet the places where I live have little to do with adequate exercise or my food choices. There is no best or worst place to live, it's how I live. Pass the eggnog.

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    Jenni -- I am, for one, not opposed to suburbs. I'm opposed to the typical 1950s-1990s urban design of most suburbs.

    I grew up in downtown Lake Oswego; the "First Addition Neighborhood". There, you'll find a 10x8 street grid built in the pre-war period. Traffic's never an issue in the grid, the kids walk to the library, the grocery, and the elementary school, and you'll find more Democrats than anywhere else in town.

    Across town, you'll find the "Westlake Neighborhood", built in the 80s and 90s. Lower densities of people (bigger houses, bigger yards) but the traffic is abysmal, and the kids and adults don't walk to get anywhere (even though there are sidewalks for exercise-walking) because there's nowhere to go without trudging along the six-lane. Oh, and there's more Republicans there than anywhere else (except on the lake-shore and country-club homes.)

    To be fair, I haven't got any clue why the partisan leanings are that way - maybe Democrats like to walk and Republicans like to drive. I don't know.

  • fournier (unverified)
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    i don't think the point that's being made is that the government is responsible for individuals making "healthy choices" when it comes to diet and exercise, that would be intrusive.

    BUT, when "the government" does make decisions on what to do with public dollars, those decisions should promote, and never harm, public health and welfare. if they're looking at spending transportation dollars, for example, they can make sure to include bike lanes so that citizens find it safe to ride their bicycles. (healthy and environmentally friendly transportation) When they're planning growth of a city, (cities don't plan themselves) making sure that there is affordable "mixed use" space does have positive public health benefits.

    promoting the growth of suburbs is not a wise decision from a public health perspective. it has nothing to do with government telling people how to live their lives.

  • (Show?)

    Kari--

    I definitely agree with you on the bad planning thing. Where I live was horribly planned, and it's only getting worse. More subdivisions are going in. And everything leads off of only about 4 "major" streets-- and they're only "major" because they are the thoroughfare to get anywhere. They're often only one lane each way with no turn lane.

    Now with the Pleasant Valley development, things are going to get awful. And heaven forbid the Wal-Mart go in here-- we'll never be able to get anywhere.

    Just today I sat through about 5 lights at 182nd/Powell, waiting to get close enough to get in the turn lane to turn east onto Powell from 182nd. If that Wal-Mart was there right now, I can't imagine how bad things would be.

    However, I do know there are some around here who are very opposed to people living in the suburbs. Yes, there are a lot of people who have moved out of Portland and into the 'burbs. However, there are just as many people who live out here who moved from rural areas, moved here when they were old enough to move out on their own, etc. And the negativity towards the 'burbs and new roads/freeways out to these areas cause a lot of problems. Not everyone wants to live in a big town. Not everyone wants to live in Portland. And we shouldn't have to suffer through little or no freeway access and few major throughfares just because people think that limiting roads will keep people from moving out here.

  • (Show?)

    I should note that even though we do live in the burbs and have to drive a lot of places, we still put less than 1000 miles on our car each month. That includes my husband driving to/from work every day, all my errands and political meetings, and driving out to Milwaukie to pick up my sister at least once a week.

  • BlueNote (unverified)
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    "promoting the growth of suburbs is not a wise decision from a public health perspective." I think I agree with that, but what is the alternative? Assume population growth of 4-5% per year into our area. What do we do with all the people other than continue to build suburbs? Rich young professionals and empty nesters are snapping up high rise condos in Portland as fast as they are built, but what do you propose for middle and low income families and those who don't want to live in Portland? "Affordable" condo units are largely a fiction and even when they are built they are not suitable for many families with multiple kids, dogs, etc. I support the construction of bike paths, sidewalks, local commercial centers, etc., but I think that continued suburban growth (sprawl) is inevitable. When I was in the 6th grade in the mid-60s the geography book we were using had a map which projected that someday there would be a wide swath of uninterrupted urban development from Vancouver BC to San Diego. Unfortunately, nothing I have seen over the past 40 years has caused me to question the eventual accuracy of that projection. Maybe this is where the bird flu would come in handy?

  • JK (unverified)
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    Just to clear up some BS:

    1. Sprawl predates the automobile. One major sprawl spurt was the streetcar!!

    2. Cul-de-sacs are much safer than grid streets. There is no through traffic past your house or past kids playing in the circle. Strangers and criminals stand out as someone to keep an eye on. One cul-de-sac was opened up by adding a bike/foot path to a neighboring shopping center. The burglery rate want from ZERO to sixty times the national average.

    3. There is a simnple solution to obesity: eat less. It is much easier to cut consumption. Just look at how far you must walk to burn off one sweet desert.

    4. The recent hype about suburb dwellers being more obese is just that - hype: Take NewYork's Chinatown out of the data & the difference disappears. But such details make no difference to the car haters.

    5. Suburb dwellers drive about the same as city dwellers and have slightly shorter commute times. Remember that most jobs are not longer in the central city so most commutes are suburb to suburb.

    6. Density only decreases driving per capata when they get very high, and then the driving does not decrease much, leading to more congestion.

    Thanks JK

  • Steve Schopp (unverified)
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    Kari wrote """""""""" "Need proof? East Portland has more people, living at a higher density, than Washington County. And yet, complaints of traffic pale in comparison to those in Washington County (where pollsters report it's the #1 political issue" """"""""""

    As I see it the worst planning outcomes are from the most recent, with the most planning with extra the extra layer Metro.

    In fact if one wanders around Washington County the worst, is the most recent, in places like Murrayhill where a sea of asphalt, concrete and roofs grew from Metro planning and direction. Without regard for anything at all except stopping expansion. Forced high density which forced URBAN sprawl upon the suburban communities has been a lousy trade for the better planned and more spacious communities we could have preserved and created. But heck, Metro is happy. They just voted unanimously to give the Round in Beaverton another $2 million for more subsidized high density development.

    It sounds silly, but Metro is evil.

  • Wes Wagner (unverified)
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    I always see a large call for bike lanes, but do the bike riders want to pay for licenses and tags for their street bikes and bear the proportional burden for their smaller lane of asphalt? Sure cars are subsidized, but a portion of the road expense is not. I am sure the bicyclists would cry murder if they were asked to pay $300 per year for a "street plate" to help finance all the additional bike lanes.

    -Wes Wagner

  • CLP (unverified)
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    Wes:

    I thought you wanted everyone to "stop trying to make everyone else live the way you think they should".

    Bike lanes afford me another option for transportation. Without them, biking is less safe, and in some cases, prohibitively so. You take bike lanes away from me, and I can't help but suspect you are "trying to make [me] live the way you think [I] should", that is by driving.

    By the way, libertarian free-market arguements only make sense in this context if we get the government out of building transportation infrustructure altogether, which I doubt is going to happen anytime soon (or is even feasible).

  • fournier (unverified)
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    while i sympathize with those who may “not want to live in Portland,” just because someone (or many someones) wants something, doesn’t make it good public policy. supporting suburban growth is bad environmental policy in a lot of ways, and it’s bad health policy in a lot of ways. clinging to the idea that “everyone” is going to have a big house with a big lawn is kind of silly. (especially since there’s never been a time when “everyone” lived like that.) there’s no constitutional right to a lawn. living in an urban center requires different kinds of housing. if the suburbs aren’t sustainable, (they’re not) then we shouldn’t build them.

    but back to the original topic of obesity: i think it's really important to avoid simplistic statements like "sprawl causes obesity." Inactivity is very closely linked to obesity. If you're driving an hour to and from work, that's two hours a day, five or so days a week where you're not being physically active. Then, many people can add in time at work to their daily physically inactive time, as well as time doing errands, shopping, etc... Living close to where you work, maybe close enough to walk or ride your bike, is a great way to integrate physical activity into your daily life. Most people, i've found, find it easier to maintain a routine of physical activity if they can integrate it into their daily life. This is where people can make the “personal choices” to minimize their chances being obese.

    But there’s also a public policy component where we can design spaces to allow for these kind of activities, or we can just build lots more roads. Building more roads may help relive some short term congestion for cars, but it's going to cause more congestion in your arteries in the long run. (building roads also means you have to maintain them, and that's expensive)

    The growth in American obesity is relatively recent, and not nearly enough research has been done to start being able to find direct causational links. However, there are enough studies to start to put the picture together.

    Here's one that ties obesity rates to time spent in a car. Another points to sprawl as a possible contributor. Another looks at poverty rates and food prices as predictors of obesity.

    JK, want to cite some of your sources?

  • Wes Wagner (unverified)
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    "You take bike lanes away from me, and I can't help but suspect you are 'trying to make [me] live the way you think [I] should', that is by driving."

    That logic has no formal connection - I am arguing that people who do not ride bikes should not be forced to pay for bike lanes, per say. In the same manner would it not be fair that people who ride bikes not be forced to pay for car lanes out of the Oregon general fund? (as we know not all roads come from gas taxes, a large amount of it is general fund money - collected from everyone, regardless of whether they own a car or not)

    Are you saying that bikes (and bike lanes) do not have a viable enough economic value to be able to be self sufficient in funding bike lanes and need socialized subsidization?

    I don't call that forcing you to live in a particular manner - I just name it for what it is - that you might feel entitled to special priviledge because you believe you have the poitical lobbying power to take it from the public treasury. There is far too much of that going around.

    -Wes Wagner

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    Nothing wrong with suburbs per se. Heck, Ladd's Addition was once a suburb of Portland.

    It's the way they're currently designed. Steve, I'll just point out that Metro does big-scale planning but cities still do the zoning and the approvals for specific projects. You'll want to get educated on the basic who-does-what before you pop off half-cocked.

    Metro-hating is especially dumb when it's mis-informed.

    (I do remember that lovely public opinion survey about 8 years ago that found that an overwhelming supermajority of the public just LOOOOVES Metro - a upermajority of those folks love how good Metro is at running the buses. If that's not funny to you, it's time to do a little remedial learning on our regional govt.)

  • W. Bruce Anderholt II (unverified)
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    I'm sure if I were a downtown bike courier, I would be in much better physical condition. That doesn't equate to a happier life or better standard of living in my book.

    It's also worth noting that lawn maintenance and gardening is a (seasonally) active pursuit, unless you contract it out. To suggest that society has any say in whether I prefer to live downtown or suburbs, or how I commute (bike, car, or transit) is to invite creeping Socialism into our lives. That is unacceptable.

    Public policy should incorporate the diversity of choices available to our citizenry: it shouldn't be anti-car, or anti-suburbs, or anti-obesity. Some people will always be fat, some people will always drive their car; others will always be skinny, and eschew travel by car.

    If the City of Portland wants to make a difference in my life, how about devoting the same resources and energy to a grand sidewalk contstruction progam as they have devoted to condominium development. If it were safer to walk in the suburbs (SW Portland, in my case), the grocery store walks would be much more frequent.

  • Gil Johnson (unverified)
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    I have to take on JK's assertions: Just to clear up some BS: 1. Sprawl predates the automobile. One major sprawl spurt was the streetcar!! Take a look at Portland's old streetcar neighborhoods. Yes, they developed, but did not sprawl. If you look at essentially pre-World War II development, which was largely inside of 82nd on the east side, you see compact lots with a lot of nice single-family houses, but all with in walking range of the streetcar line and most necessities, such as groceries and drugstores and even movie theatres. When car-oriented planning started prevailing, the sprawl became much greater. 2. Cul-de-sacs are much safer than grid streets. There is no through traffic past your house or past kids playing in the circle. Strangers and criminals stand out as someone to keep an eye on. One cul-de-sac was opened up by adding a bike/foot path to a neighboring shopping center. The burglery rate want from ZERO to sixty times the national average. I would like to know the source of this last assertion. If you look at the crime rate statistics of the inner east side of Portland, you'll find they are usually better than the rest of the east side. 3. There is a simnple solution to obesity: eat less. It is much easier to cut consumption. Just look at how far you must walk to burn off one sweet desert. It is NOT easier to cut consumption. That's why people who go on diets never stay on them. But let's think about moderation in all things. A little more walking or biking and fewer calories ingested. 4. The recent hype about suburb dwellers being more obese is just that - hype: Take NewYork's Chinatown out of the data & the difference disappears. But such details make no difference to the car haters. Again, cite some studies, JK. I live out in Dundee and work in inner southeast Portland. When I'm walking along Hawthorne or Belmont, I see healthy people of all ages. When I go to Fred Meyer in Newberg, I see a lot of obese people. There may be a host of factors, but living in a city where walking and biking makes is more practical than driving certainly provides a decent amount of exercise. Ask Mel Kohn, whose title escapes me, but he's the state's equivalent of surgeon general. 5. Suburb dwellers drive about the same as city dwellers and have slightly shorter commute times. Remember that most jobs are not longer in the central city so most commutes are suburb to suburb. If this is true, it's probably because our metro area hasn't sprawled so large as to make suburban commutes unbearably long. I have to confess to being astounded by people I meet who live out in Troutdale or Vancouver and commute to Washington County every day because the cost of housing is lower where they live. If they would compute the actual cost of driving, which nowadays is at least 50 cents per mile, the savings in housing are negated by the increase in transportation costs. I'm pretty dubious that suburb dwellers drive less than city dwellers, though. Huge numbers of city dwellers don't drive at all. 6. Density only decreases driving per capata when they get very high, and then the driving does not decrease much, leading to more congestion. Okay, then answer this: if you drive out to North Plains on a Saturday morning and then head back to Portland that afternoon, you will invariably run into a horrendous traffic jam no Highway 26, as if it were rush hour--and this is at around 1 - 2 p.m. every Saturday afternoon. You can drive all over Portland at the same time and never hit this kind of traffic gridlock. And don't talk to me about the commute hours on 26. I would shoot myself or somebody else if I had to drive thay high way every day at rush hour. So, finally, if the suburbs and exurbs are what people really want, why is it that the most expensive real estate in the metro area is in the densest areas? Northwest, Pearl, Goose Hollow and now even the inner east side. Prices in Buckman have risen astronomically. The market seems to have spoken. <
  • Gil Johnson (unverified)
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    By the way, lest people notice the apparent contradiction between my politics and my own life, I commute from Dundee twice a week and stay in a small studio the rest of the week that is an easy bike ride to my business. The extra rent I pay is easily offset by fewer miles traveled and greater serenity.

  • (Show?)

    5. Suburb dwellers drive about the same as city dwellers and have slightly shorter commute times. Remember that most jobs are not longer in the central city so most commutes are suburb to suburb.

    This is true of many people I know. The vast majority of people I know who live in the Gresham-Troutdale area work in this area. There are a lot of people who live out here and rarely, if ever, go into Portland. If it wasn't for political meetings and the occasional meeting with a client, I'd only be going into Portland maybe 2 or 3 times a year.

    My husband has a 10-15 minute commute to work each day. It's about 5 miles, but there is a school zone between here and there (a 24-hour one), and the majority of the way is through 30 mph streets. Both our apartment and his job are here in Gresham. We're actually talking about moving to an apartment further to the east so that we can be even closer to his work.

    Not everyone who lives in the 'burbs is dependent on Portland for jobs or errands.

  • Isaac (unverified)
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    BlueNote said: ""promoting the growth of suburbs is not a wise decision from a public health perspective." I think I agree with that, but what is the alternative? Assume population growth of 4-5% per year into our area. What do we do with all the people other than continue to build suburbs?"

    There's nothing wrong with growth in the suburbs. What's wrong is the way they are developed. We should ENCOURAGE sustainable growth in the suburbs. The more choices we give people the better. Many people don't want to live in Portland, but want to live in a good (read urban) neighborhood in Hillsboro or Gresham. We should embrace this market.

  • Isaac (unverified)
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    I noticed a few days ago that I've lost some weight. I'm a Portland native that has been living in urban Seoul, South Korea for the past 3 months. As most Americans, my parents moved to the suburbs (Vancouver) when I was 12, where I've been dying to get back to the city ever since.

    I did the unforgivable a week ago and shaved my goatee and was surprised with the result. I look fine, which was not the result 5 or 6 months ago when I gave in to the same temptation. I noticed that I looked different then - a little rounder in the cheeks, contrasting with my pointy nose - I didn't like it so I immediately started growing it back. I started to notice I was getting a bit of a gut too. I could see it through my shirt in the mirror. As a recent college grad who was deathly skinny his entire life I thought, this can't be happening to me.

    So 5 months later I'm finally living the urban dream I've been talking for years (read Suburban Nation, it's required reading for anyone remotely interested in this). My wife and I have no car, no need or desire for one. All of our needs are within walking distance of our apartment or various subway stations. When we are making dinner and we need a tomato or some bread, I don't get in the car and drive 15 minutes to some soulless parking lot where a grocery store is hiding, I just walk out the front door and I'm back in less than 5 minutes depending on the line at the store or if I stopped to talk to somebody I know. All this just by using my legs, no fossil fuels necessary to get toilet paper anymore.

    So this time when I shaved I was surprised to find no extra cheeks hanging onto my face. Then I realized why my wedding ring has been bothering me lately. It doesn't fit. It's probably half a size too loose now. Also gone is the pudge under my shirt. All this from making no noticeable changes (ok I moved to another country). I haven't started exercising. My diet is relatively the same, although I probably eat fast food a little less . I was actually disappointed when I found out that our apartment was less than a block away from work, because I didn't think it was enough walking to make any difference physically. I was wrong. Walking half a block to all my needs. That's all it took. It's true sometimes we walk further when we go out. We'll walk all over some neighborhoods, but you don't notice it as exercise, just out having a good time with friends.

    88% of Americans drive every time they leave the house. Couple that with horrendous eating habits and it's no wonder over 60% of us are overweight. It's astounding how little walking it takes to make a dent in your gut. JUST HALF A BLOCK! (My wife actually had to get all her pants taken in.) Now we were never very overweight or unhealthy, but this has been the result of just three months of walking. Imagine the impact it would have over a lifetime. Wake up Americans!

    I want to make it clear that you don't need to move to New York, Seoul, Korea, or even NW Portland to experience good urbanism. You can find this lifestyle in hundreds of small towns across America (including many in Oregon) that haven't been ravaged by the suburbs. It's simply a more sustainable way to build our towns and cities. I should note that this is a lifestyle choice, HOWEVER, the government - federal and state, should stop subsidizing this unsustainable development - highways, sewers, loans, etc.

  • CLP (unverified)
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    Wes:

    That logic has no formal connection - I am arguing that people who do not ride bikes should not be forced to pay for bike lanes, per say. In the same manner would it not be fair that people who ride bikes not be forced to pay for car lanes out of the Oregon general fund? (as we know not all roads come from gas taxes, a large amount of it is general fund money - collected from everyone, regardless of whether they own a car or not)

    I think requiring the non-cyclists to pay for bike lanes and requring the non-motorists to pay for car lanes are both fair. Even if I didn't drive (I happen to use a private automobile, a bicycle, and public transit), I would benefit from car lanes. For example, when I buy things from the store, they likely came there by truck. I think our modern economy would not be possible without the substantial public investment we've put into car lanes.

    And even if you don't bike, you benefit from bike lanes. When I bike, I become healthier, which is good for the economy as it makes me a more productive worker. It reduces congestion, which makes the driver's commute easier. It does not generate air pollution. Bike lanes make the region more attractive to tourists.

    But, frankly, having choice of transporation is a virtue in itself. Just as there are trips which are more appropriate for automobiles, there are trips that are more appropriate for bikes. I consider having the choice to bike part of what makes a city a nice place to live. Having options is a good thing.

    I don't think you can apply a free-market libertarian model to transportation, either. Even if roads were completely funded by gasoline taxes or other user fees, the distribution of transportation (including road) funding will be uneven. Consider, for example, the infamous "bridge to nowhere" in Alaska. I think Russel Sadler made a good point here a few months ago that the so-called "bridge to nowhere" could be considered important to ensuring economic development in Alaska. However, if we divided transportation funding on a per-capita basis, or even on the basis of who paid the most in gasoline taxes, Alaska probably would not have enough transportation to meet its needs. I think that would be bad for everyone.

    Let's face it: the way the system is structured, the government will be favoring and disfavoring certain methods of transportation, because we rely on the government to build and maintain our transportation infrustructure. Frankly, I don't see how a purely free-market approach could result in an adequate infrustructure. I would challenge you to name a capitalist society on earth in which the government did not play a large role in creating the transportation infrustructure.

    So, given that, we probably want the government's decisions to produce a maximal social benefit. I think that is Leslie's point.

  • CLP (unverified)
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    My apologies to Russell for messing up his name.

  • Wes Wagner (unverified)
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    CLP - you have some good points, I can agree with you that non road users really use roads which is why the tax per vehicle, per mile, per gallon or whatever should be levied to fully fund the roads - that way everyone pays their equal share and has an equivelent interest in the system being efficient.

    The idea that we should pay money to build a bridge Alaska can't afford is econmically confounding. If the economic value of developing the island was high enough, the bridge would be tenable. Alaska is merely asking other people to pay the economic cost so they can gain an economic benefit. This money does not come from nowhere - it could have been used by people in Alabama to help send their children to college had their taxes been lower.

    Given time the value of flat land in Alaska would have caught up with the cost of private or local public development. Using federal funds to build a bridge that is not yet economically viable is socialism of the worst kind - not only do you have the unjustifiable taking of property from one individual for the benefit of another - but you have spent the resources poorly too (there are clearly more worthwhile pursuits).

    -Wes Wagner NW Meridian

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    i think about 90% of the streets here in Corvallis have bike lanes. you know what that requires? a line of white paint. in a handful of places, there are light switches built in the street for bikes to trigger. the lines are painted when the city does other road work. beyond that, nothing.

    Corvallis, and i'm sure Portland, spends far more on pedestrian "amenities." i wonder how much gets spent on crosswalk lights and switches? how many millions was it to make corners accessible? so wes has us on the right track: let's license pedestrians. perhaps it should cost a quarter to use the light switch: if anyone wants to cross Front to the park, someone's gotta pony up two bits. cops could stop walkers along the streets, especially downtown during rush hours, and check for permits. or maybe tolls for the bridges -- it cost a lot to add pedestrian paths on the bridges.

    bikes and pedestrians do not pollute. bikes and pedestrians do not degrade roadways. bikes and pedestrians do not cause hours of traffic delays daily. bikes and pedestrians do not force government to spend the billions of dollars required to keep drivers happy (just look how long Seattle fought light rail and other upgrades to mass transit). tens of thousands of people do not die because of biking or walking each year; hundreds of thousands are not injured and maimed. we do not go to war to make sure biking stays cheap.

    i love driving; i loved 25 years ago, when i lived in England and had an MBG-GT and could go out and tool around the Cornish countryside with my car stereo blaring. i would love to have me a BMW B3; man, they is hot. but i'd gladly do without every driving again if i could. living in Corvallis is great for how little i need to drive; when i lived in Portland, i was able to live a full life with almost no driving (and i lived very safely in inner areas of the city). cars are the ultimate in selfishness, and they degrade the quality of our life in almost every way. we need cities that are humane, and cars don't do that. someone explain to me how sitting alone in your car for an hour each morning and each evening promotes democracy, civic culture and a good quality of life.

  • Wes Wagner (unverified)
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    t.a. barnhart

    "good quality of life"

    Your version of a good quality of life. Just like you would not want the religious fascists on the right telling you how you can and cannot live - you should engender respect that others may not desire to live the way you intend them to.

    I live far out because I like greenspace, enough land to grow my own garden, and I like sitting in my car alone for 20 minutes a day - it gives me time to think about some things that I am often too busy to do (which I used to do while walking to work - re: previous post). I like having only 3 neighbors and I know each of them - well except the people who bought the house behind me who have not moved in yet.

    I also appreciate the fact that some people like to live in a built up inner urban core - I used to do it, and at the time it had its plusses and minuses too.

    The major point of contention here seems to be: Are you determined to force other people to live the way you want to, or are you going to be permissive of their individual liberty?

    Do you have the right to do the former, and what injustices will be levied against you when someone who does not agree with you obtains power and uses the same justification you did?

    Wes Wagner NW Meridian

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