Next time you walk outside, pay close attention to the space around you. I was recently trying to play a friendly game of basketball with my neighbors and it then dawned on me that we’ve built our communities and neighborhoods around cars – mostly that aren’t even moving – and not for the people that live in these communities. We tried playing basketball in the street, like we did when we were kids, but there were so many parked cars it blocked the basket, then we tried soccer but cars were coming too frequently to get a rhythm, so we had to settle for card games inside.
hero_image_alt_text===Person riding a bicycle
thumbnail_alt_text===Person riding a bicycle
Not being able to play outside grinded my gears a little, so I did a quick google search and found that the average vehicle is used only 4% of the time, is idle the rest of the time, and that our neighborhoods were designed for specifically for our cars. I discovered a few studies that showed that we have somewhere between 100 million and 2 billion parking spaces in the Unities States, with the most likely number being 800 million parking spaces (roughly 3 per car). We have so many parking spaces, that we don’t even know how to definitively count them!
Now imagine what our communities might look like if they weren’t built to accommodate idle cars or help move them quickly?
I think it would be a community with wide sidewalks, safe bikeways, and neighborhoods with bigger front yards that are safe for kids to play outside. Streets used to be used as public spaces where kids would play in the streets and most homes had front yards where neighbors would connect forming true communities. I used to love kicking the ball around or playing catch in the yard with my brother or riding bikes around the neighborhood until dark like the kids in “Stranger Things.”
But it was hard not to notice when I visited home, that kids don’t do this as frequently - largely because there are more barriers to physical activity than there used to be. Generally speaking, streets across the nation have become a place solely for cars that inched closer to homes causing yards to disappear, narrower sidewalks — or no sidewalks at all, and increased rates of pedestrian crashes which effectively sacrificed much of the other benefits I enjoyed as a youth.
The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the U.S. infrastructure a grade of D+, estimating that our country needs more than $3.6 trillion in infrastructure investment by 2020. Since our government has to invest in our roads and neighborhoods anyway, doesn’t it make sense for us to rebuild our communities with people and safety being the priority? That’s why we at the AHA are working in communities to pass policies that will ensure future infrastructure projects prioritize health by helping people get from point A to point B by any mode of transportation they desire.
We are advocating for policies that will make it safe for people to share the road with cars and trucks. We want every neighborhood to have sidewalks that connect to parks, public transportation, and schools; roads that include designated and protected bike ways; and streets that accommodate all people, can help us safely be active, and improve our quality of life. We all want and deserve to live in safe, healthy communities and I’m proud to work on legislation that will help make that a reality.
Can we count on you to help us? If you are interested in joining our campaigns to make our neighborhoods healthier, please contact me at Josh.Brown@heart.org.