Scoot Over! It's Time for Active Transportation 🚲

Reimagining Mobility for a Greener, Healthier Future

Welcome to Fostering Our Earth, a space for untangling the complex systems needed for a sustainable future, from infrastructure and policies to lifestyles and cultures.

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This is part one of a four-part series, where we’ll explore sustainable mobility systems and how they must be active, transit-oriented, shared, and electrified in our sustainable future. This week, we focus on active transportation.

But first, let’s reflect: how far are you willing to go without driving? In other words, what’s the maximum distance you would walk or bike to regularly?

Let’s get moving!

In our sustainable future, our mobility systems must be active. Active transportation refers to any mode of travel that relies directly on human power, such as walking, cycling, skating, or even using a wheelchair. These modes are carbon-free and help reduce our reliance on cars and other motorized vehicles. This is especially important, considering transportation is responsible for nearly a third of US greenhouse gas emissions. Now, I’m not saying we get rid of cars, but research shows that most car trips are less than 2 miles. You can use a tool like Map Radius Calculator (calcmaps.com) to draw a 2-mile radius around your home to get a sense of this distance. For such relatively short distances, we should be able to commute comfortably without needing a car. For this to happen, our communities need to be designed in such a way that promotes and makes it easy to do this. By implementing an active transportation system, we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve our health, and create more livable and equitable communities.

Some Clear Benefits

Some of the benefits of active transportation are:

  • First, it reduces greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, as active modes emit little or no emissions compared to motorized vehicles.

  • It can improve our physical and mental health, as active modes provide opportunities for physical activity, social interaction and can reduce stress and anxiety.

  • It enhances public safety by reducing the number of people at risk on our streets. Currently, our roads can be dangerous for both pedestrians and drivers. A pedestrian is killed by a vehicle every 85 minutes in the US. In 2019 alone, there were over 22,000 traffic crash deaths and more than 2.4 million injuries. By investing in active transportation infrastructure, we can create safer streets for everyone. You’ll often see this described as Vision Zero or Complete Streets.

  • It supports the local economy and social inclusion, as active modes are often affordable and, with inclusive designs, can be more accessible for people of all ages, abilities, and incomes. It can also stimulate local businesses and tourism. Think about how easy it is to patronize a store outside your car!

Now, I’m sure you’re wondering — this is nice and all, and you’d love to walk places, but where you live isn’t conducive to walking. Also, parking and going into a coffee shop would be inconvenient instead of just going through the drive-through, right?

I feel you, but it’s important we don’t restrict our imaginations and visions for the future based on how we live now. For us to truly transition to this active future, we need external interventions to help us make this happen.

The Nitty-Gritty 🏗️

Promoting active transportation goes beyond simply convincing you to walk or bike everywhere; rather, it's about advocating for an environment that makes it easy to choose the best option for our health, environment, and communities. We can do this by focusing on the following three areas: infrastructure, policies, and education.

  • Infrastructure: We must provide safe and comfortable infrastructure for walking and cycling, such as sidewalks, bike lanes, trails, crosswalks, signals, and bike parking. However, it’s not just about simply providing painted bike lanes but also ensuring full protection by separation. Additionally, we’ll need safe storage options everywhere — there’s nothing more frustrating than imagining where you’ll store your bike in a new location.

  • Advocacy: We must advocate for implementing policies and programs that discourage harmful and unsustainable practices and encourage active ones. This includes reducing speed limits, enforcing traffic laws, and even offering subsidies for purchasing e-bikes. Such practices will make transitioning to active transportation more accessible, comfortable, and affordable! One tiny thing in addition to this would be enabling more car-free streets, as we saw during the COVID pandemic. Finally, by enabling more outdoor restaurants and events, it will make it easy to transition to this car-free future.

  • Education: Transitioning to this future takes learning — whether it's how to cycle safely and confidently properly or simply understanding the why behind our world’s design. We want folks to feel comfortable moving around this future. By encouraging kids to cycle to school and organizing community events such as Bike Party in Baltimore or CicLAvia in LA, we can help people gain the necessary experience and knowledge to transition to a more active transportation future!

At Fostering Our Earth 🌍, I believe in looking at the world holistically and systematically, understanding that everything is connected. Active transportation is just one piece of the puzzle for creating a sustainable mobility system. A complete system is multimodal, meaning you can walk to the train station, get on a train, or grab a shared e-bike to reach your final destination. To achieve this, we must advocate for specific details, such as unified transit apps, real-time transit information, clear wayfinding, affordable fares, or even detailed walking trails on Google Maps. I encourage you to look for these details and advocate for them wherever they’re missing!

One key design consideration for active transportation to be truly accessible is for our neighbors with physical challenges. Simple design choices like more curb cuts and wider sidewalks and bike lanes can make a big difference by accommodating everyone! Much like how subtitles, a visual curb cut for hearing impaired folks on TV, benefits everyone, physical and infrastructural curb cuts can also benefit everyone. These design choices can provide more space for people walking with friends or carrying luggage down the street. I highly recommend checking out this 99% Invisible podcast episode on the universal benefits of curb cuts.

Here are some key questions to consider:

  • How do you currently get around your community? Do you walk or bike often?

  • What challenges do you face in moving around your community? Is it a lack of infrastructure, safety concerns, or time constraints?

    • For challenges, think about time (i.e., it will take too long to walk somewhere reasonably), think about your fears (there isn’t enough lighting at night to walk around comfortably), think about infrastructure (there aren’t protected bike lanes to keep me safe)

  • Can you replace some of your short trips with walking or cycling? Even one trip a week can make a difference.

  • What is your neighborhood doing to promote active transportation? Are there any plans or initiatives in place?

  • How much space in your community is dedicated to cars vs. people?

Please share your feedback, stories, or suggestions with us here. Let's work together to create more sustainable and equitable communities through active transportation.

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