Nobody walked in LA

Los Angeles, California was designed exclusively for cars. Other than a few tourist areas, walking around the city would have been considered “suspicious activity”.

Fashion sometimes follows a weird course. Before Lady Gaga was even born, the lead singer of Missing Persons had already mastered the look, the moves and the controversy. Kids these days… All they know is Lady Gaga and they think her act is new. Likewise, when a “new” program to promote bicycling hits Los Angeles most people wouldn’t think that it’s already been proven… In Minnesota. Just as fashion often follows a strange course, and eventually finds its way to NZ, so to will the promotion of active transport find its way here.

It seems that The City of Smog Angels is now encouraging walking, along with bicycling. The reason:

They are driven by a basic principle: Preventing disease is less expensive than treating it.”LA Times

That’s in a country that’s far from having universal health-care. Here in NZ, who pays for obesity? Who pays for hypertension? Who pays for diabetes? Who pays for arteriosclerosis? Who pays for heart attacks? Yup… The same people who pay for roads: Taxpayers. That means anyone who earns taxable income and anyone who purchases goods and services. That’s me and you.

According to the LA Times, LA is implementing a system that’s already been proven to boost participants’ life expectancies by three years. I’m guessing that those extra three years are not spent burdening a health-care system; too many people in “modern” society spend their final years dying, not living.

We can’t force people to do this, but we can create a perfect storm of influence to get a lot of things done” – Dan Buettner, who started the program with a pilot project in Minnesota in 2008

So we could build roads and encourage people to drive, or we could build walking and bicycling infrastructure that, just by being there, encourages people to use it. Not to mention that promotion of public transport would make much more efficient use of the roads we already have.

Parliament seems eager to spend our money, and borrow against our grandkids’ money if that’s what it takes, to build more roads. Maybe they’ll tack on a bicycle lane here and there. When will NZ learn that “investing” in transportation infrastructure needs to account for all of the costs? One of those costs in NZ is publicly funded treatment of illness caused by sedentary lifestyles: For too many New Zealanders, “exercise” is walking to and from the car. NZ simply can’t afford a car culture: the economic, environmental and health costs are all too high. We import our cars, we import our fuel, and all of that driving has already made us among the fattest countries in the world. Meanwhile, “two thirds of all driving trips in New Zealand are less than six kilometres long” and “up to 36% of current vehicle driver trips could be made by bicycle.” Thank you NZTA for funding that research… Now, if only they’d act on it.

Active transportation (walking, bicycling, public transportation) are the transportation investments that really pay back over time. Let’s free up the roads we’ve got for long trips and cargo (and even much of that could be accommodated by rail) and start making it fashionable to leave the car at home for short trips.

Note to MPs: Spending transportation funds on “Roads of National Significance” does not encourage people to walk, bicycle, or take a bus: It encourages people to sit in their imported cars, burning imported fuel. Depending on traffic, this may raise their pulse, but it doesn’t count as exercise. Keeping people healthy is just one of the ways that bicycling infrastructure more than pays for itself (decreased demand for imported cars and fuel is another way). Over the last few years we’ve been seeing bicycling in Wellington become much more fashionable. Hopefully parliament will figure out that good transportation investments and good health are both in fashion.



5 thoughts on “Nobody walked in LA

  1. Great post Atom.
    Dutch cycling advocate David Hembrow says:

    “It’s very simple. Cycling rates are proportional to the quality of the infrastructure, and the quality of the infrastructure is proportional to the expenditure on it. The Netherlands spends more money than any other country on cycling, and has the results to show for it.

    “The excuse of not having enough money never holds up. Providing good cycling infrastructure is much cheaper than the alternative – of not providing it and dealing with the health effects, extra imports of oil, greater road building and maintenance costs due to more driving.”

    If enough people demand a change in our transport priorities …


  2. Can I suggest to readers that your MPs and their opponents who want to become MPs are very much more out and about than usual what with there being an election in a bit more than a month.

    Why not take the opportunity to bail them up and plant a few ideas, or attend a meeting and ask some leading questions about transport?

    I had an interesting talk to Grant Robertson at a market on Sunday, suggesting that dropping helmet laws could be seen as a net public health improvement if more people ride regularly as a result. He may not have been convinced, but it was a new idea to him, and if other people bring up cycling as a thing, it will broaden the scope of public debate.


  3. There seems to be this ridiculous disconnection between different government departments… the health department is wringing its hands over the obesity crisis (I’d rather call it the unhealthy lifestyle crisis) and telling everyone to get active; meanwhile the transport department discourages one of the easiest ways to integrate exercise in to one’s daily life. It’s like they’re both living in bubbles.


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