Last month I learned that my hometown, Louisville, Ky, is at the bottom of the American Fitness Index – number 49 among 50 cities studied. And a few days later I found that Louisville is among the most dangerous midwestern cities for pedestrians, according to the Transportation for America study “Dangerous By Design.”
I’m disappointed, but not surprised. I’m angry as hell. I’m embarrassed. I hope you are, too.
Infrastructure too expensive?
When I see our nation’s crumbling roads and bridges it makes me crazy. It’s like rubbing salt into a fresh wound when you realize that motorists are – in this and every other city – beneficiaries of the biggest welfare program ever devised by humankind. Yet we can’t seem to find the relatively small change needed to maintain our sidewalks, create bikeways, and provide reliable transit to connect our city and its people.
Yes, I said small change. Sidewalks and bikeways cost nothing compared to the tsunami wave of fat kids needing insulin pumps and bypass surgeries that will soon overwhelm us if we don’t do something quickly.
I take this very personally because I don’t own a car anymore. I walk and ride my bicycle just about everywhere. I’m 60 years old. Yes, it’s dangerous. But the risk of activity is still not as great as the risk of inactivity.
We Louisvillians deserve a lot better. We’re told that Social Security and Medicare will dry up before my generation reaches full retirement. Meanwhile, in the United states of America we spend more money on free and subsidized parking for cars than we do on national defense or Medicare. How can that be? Motorists are on welfare that dwarfs federal aid to families with dependent children, food stamps, and all the other social programs combined. Still, we’re encouraged to use the passive transportation that’s killing us. What sense does that make?
Someone please tell me why the most prosperous and powerful nation on earth can’t afford the best sidewalks and bikeways and transit systems and fast trains on the planet!
How can it be that a great city like Louisville, in the heart of the United States of America, has no freedom of choice when it comes to safe and reliable transportation? This isn’t the legacy I want to leave to my children.
I’m not suggesting some expensive, high tech deal. It’s not rocket surgery. We’re talking about sidewalks, painted lanes. Hell, clean, electric streetcars were developed half a century ago! The tracks are visible under the asphalt on Louisville streets!
It’s time to wake up from our carjacked, gasoline-induced stupor and demand some quick answers that will get us moving again. We need to start with Safe Routes To Schools. We don’t need separate bikeways. Put our big-ass roads on a diet and give whole lanes to cyclists and walkers. Start treating active transportation with the same kind of preference currently given to motorists. Make it attractive to walk and ride a bike and use transit. Quit treating cyclists as if they’re in the way, when they’re really the way of the future.
Whatever the cost, these simple solutions are a mere fraction of the penalty we’re already paying for the inactivity that’s choking out our chances of competing in the world – and among cities in our own country.
The clock is ticking. Or is it a time bomb? Let’s get moving, Louisville!
Are you as mad as I am? Are you dissatisfied that Louisville is stuck at the bottom of the fitness index – and one of the most dangerous places to walk? If not, you should be. Until we demand safe and reliable transportation choices, most of us will keep driving – even for short trips. Nothing will change unless you and I ask.
On Saturday afternoon I was tripped up by another “toe grabber” – a heaved-up slab of sidewalk that caught my toe and sent me sprawling in front of 325 Peterson Ave. I saw that a couple of the condominiums there are for sale. I called the numbers on the sale signs to complain about the sidewalk. It’s the property owners’ responsibility. Maybe the sale agents will suggest a sidewalk repair before someone gets badly injured.
This time I just bloodied my knee, bruised my palm, and a rib or two. I’ll be fine. But the point is this: IN THE FACE OF OUR CURRENT PUBLIC HEALTH AND SAFETY NIGHTMARE, why are we putting up roadblocks to pedestrians and cyclists? Shouldn’t we be rolling out the red carpet in an effort to make Louisville the safest and most fit city in the midwest? Nothing will attract young people, industry, active seniors with money, and all the other indicators of health and wealth every city is competing for. You don’t need to commission a special study to figure this stuff out. The evidence is in plain sight. Take a walk – if you dare! Invite your Metro Council representative to join you.
In a WFPL Radio report, Cassandra Culin with the Neighborhood Pedestrian and Bicycle Access Committee said crumbling or nonexistent sidewalks are largely to blame for the relatively high pedestrian mortality rate. (Add my deformed hand.)
Culin said she’s concerned that federal budget cuts will only make the situation worse.
“Congress needs to make sure that there’s a balance in the funding that comes from the federal government among all the various users of roads, including pedestrians,” she said. You should call your Congressional leaders today to remind them that we want to spend more – not less – on sidewalks and bikeways.
Kentucky has received tens of millions of dollars in federal grants for sidewalk and bike lane improvements in recent decades. The stimulus package also gave Metro Government several grants to improve sidewalks. But it’s clearly not enough. We need to make some noise.
Start by walking where you live. Take photos of the “toe grabbers” and other obstacles in your neighborhood. Call 311 Metro Call to report the crumbled sidewalks. Tell your Metro Council member you want the same kind of welfare plan motorists have enjoyed for half a century.
Budget planners can start by diverting some of the $300 billion a year welfare motorists receive in free and subsidized parking. Tell Congress you want safe routes for walking and biking – not just on a few recreational trails, but everywhere in this city. Tell them you want it yesterday. And how about throwing in some of the tens of billions now spent on oil subsidies. Instead, let’s put that money into clean transit lines that will carry you and your bike across town.
If I sound like a dreamer, you’re right. I am. It’s a pretty sweet dream and we can turn it into reality in short order if we have the courage to ask. I suggest you join me unless you’re prepared to face the nightmares associated with inactivity. Seriously, why would a great city like Louisville settle for less?
Grace. Peace. Bicycle grease.
PS: Remember, every lane is a bike lane.
Share the road.
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Enjoy the ride home.
© Copyright, Kirk M. Kandle, MMXI
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