If you’ve read our blog recently, or if you’ve been paying attention to healthy communities media streams in our world, you know about a renewed national push to increase walking and walkability. In that push, I hear a stronger voice for health equity. Simply put, equity is about fairness. Not all neighborhoods are created equal; so many people could be more active in their communities (through walking or wheelchair rolling) if their options were safer and less limited.
I was pleased that the 2015 Everybody Walk National Summit integrated health equity as the central theme (or maybe we should say “walking equity”). Notable national leaders addressed equity head-on, including Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, Dr. Robert Bullard, Ron Sims and Tyler Norris. They challenged health and walking advocates to focus where the greatest inequities happen: in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. Regionally, people in the Southeast suffer the most for nearly every health and social indicator.
This year’s meeting highlighted Vision Zero as a new movement within the broader healthy communities movement. Originating from Sweden, Vision Zero found its first U.S. home in New York City, with the goal of zero pedestrian deaths. As part of a sweeping legislative agenda increasing speeding penalties for dangerous drivers, NYC’s Vision Zero Action Plan calls for lowering speed limits city-wide, increasing enforcement, public outreach and new street designs.
This new emphasis complements the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT)’s Safe Streets for Seniors initiative, which identifies “senior pedestrian focus areas” based on the locations of injuries and fatalities among people over 65. In essence, the DOT is identifying areas of safety inequities for its most vulnerable residents. The city views pedestrian conditions in these neighborhoods “from a senior’s perspective,” which can result in extending pedestrian crossing times at crosswalks to accommodate slower walking speeds, constructing pedestrian safety islands, widening curbs and medians, narrowing roadways and installing new stop controls and signals.
AARP also had a strong presence at the Everybody Walk Summit. In the past, it has effectively promoted Complete Streets as a planning and policy framework for transportation planners and other decision makers. AARP’s 2014 toolkit, Complete Streets in the Southeast, focuses attention where walking and other inequities are more urgent. For additional resources, check out AARP’s Age-Friendly network and Livable Communities space online as well as a new Livability Index. Use the index to rate your own community across a broad set of issues that are critical to quality of life, including transportation, housing, health and social engagement.
Community advocates, planners, engineers and elected officials must work for—and with—residents who are most vulnerable, who have the greatest need for safe streets and the most to gain from more walking.