America's Bulging Waistlines and a National Need for Complete Streets

Adult obesity rates across the country. Source: Trust for America's Health
Adult obesity rates across the country. Source: Trust for America's Health

Adult obesity is still on the rise in America, according to the latest report F as in Fat (.pdf) report issued by the Trust for America’s Health last week.

Indeed, our country is packing on the pounds — and quickly. Twenty years ago, no state had an obesity rate above 15 percent. Now? Nearly two-thirds do. Twelve states have obesity rates are above 30 percent. Just four years ago, only one state was above that threshold.

F as in Fat isn’t all doom and gloom though. It highlights six key strategies to combat the obesity epidemic head-on, including increasing physical activity by improving the built environment in our communities. Part of that is, of course, the adoption and implementation of Complete Streets policies. The authors highlight the importance of safe streets in encouraging healthier living, citing several studies linking sidewalks to increased levels of walking.

They also note the economic benefit of building complete streets, citing last December’s study from the Political Economy Research Institute at University of Massachusetts Amherst, which found per $1 million invested in Baltimore’s roadways, bike lanes created 14 jobs, pedestrian projects created 11 jobs, and automobile-only projects created just seven jobs. Just a few weeks ago, the same research institute released a more comprehensive study that looked at 11 cities nationwide and reinforces the finding that bicycling and walking projects such as bicycle lanes and sidewalks create more jobs than road construction or repair.

The report notes several communities working to provide and promote healthier, active transportation, including Nashville, Tennessee and Hernando, Mississippi. (The case study on Hernando, pages 87 and 88, is a must read for any community, small or large, looking for inspiration.)

The sixteen states with Complete Streets legislation get kudos from the Trust, which then calls upon Congress to view the impending authorization of the federal transportation bill to promote active transportation nationwide.

Unfortunately, it seems this recommendation might not have reached the ears of U.S. Representative John Mica (FL-7), the Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and key author of that pending legislation. In an outline of the proposed bill released last week, the next authorization will eliminate dedicated funding that has helped provide more safe options for walking and biking and include no Complete Streets provision.

Upon reading the outline, Coalition Executive Director Barbara McCann responded:

“Representative Mica’s proposal ignores the millions of Americans who are now using the nation’s highways — by foot, bicycle and bus. By failing to include a Complete Streets provision, the bill would allow states to continue to build multi-lane roads through communities where pedestrians are left to tramp through the grass, bus riders are forced to run across dangerous intersections, and bicycle riders have nowhere to go. In addition, the proposal would eliminate the very modest dedicated funding for bicycling and walking, claiming these are ‘non-highway’ or ‘non-transportation’ activities. In fact, bicycling and walking make up 12 percent of the nation’s trips. Add in those getting on and off public transportation, and it turns out a good portion of the nation’s so-called ‘highway’ travel is make up of people who are not in private automobiles. Unfortunately, safety statistics bear this out: 67 percent of all pedestrian fatalities in the last ten years took place on federal-aid roads.

The adoption of Complete Streets policies across the nation is clear evidence that Americans want smarter and safer transportation investments. We’ll be working with members of Congress to ensure that the final transportation authorization bill reflects that wish.”

We’ll continue advocate for strong Complete Streets federal legislation and help folks across the country plan and build networks of complete streets. You van add your voice too — click here to ask your federal representatives to support bicycling and walking in the federal transportation bill and click here to ask them to cosponsor the federal Complete Streets bills.

Complete Streets