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Cars versus…. Balance?

One user over another; cars against bicycles against pedestrians against transit. We often pit competing interests against one another. Many drivers do not like sharing the roadway with their non-motorized counterparts. They have a misconception that cyclists should be on the sidewalk and pedestrians should cross the street at their own peril. On the other hand, cyclists for their part are often rude and do not necessarily abide by the proper rules of the road, riding against traffic and running red lights. Pedestrians usually take the shortest route to their destination crossing everywhere but crosswalks in complete indifference to oncoming traffic. While historically we have dismantled our transit system in favor of automobile access. Our underlying challenge is balance.
This balance however is fundamentally out of place. In the U.S., 25% of all trips are within one mile or less and 75% of these trips are being made by a single occupancy vehicle (SOV). This cultural shift, which is caused by various factors, is having some dire consequences upon our society both from a global perspective and locally in our own communities.
During the 1996 summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, SOV’s were banned from entering downtown. This unprecedented move triggered a decision by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to study the effects of this ban to determine what its public health effects might be. The study determined that morning traffic was down by 22%, ground level ozone was reduced by 28% and asthma related hospitalizations were reduced by 42%. While Mother Earth may give you the proverbial pat on the back, anyone who has a child with asthma can appreciate this.
From another perspective, research has pointed out that today’s generation of youth has a lower life expectancy then their parents, the first time this has occurred in human history! This is due to the lifestyle diseases associated with obesity such as type II diabetes, which at one time was considered adult onset and is now seen in youth as young as twelve. There is a solid body of research that is demonstrating that a person who lives in a sprawled community compared to a dense one has a higher incidence of obesity determining that the design of our environment plays a role in our everyday decisions. These decisions not only contribute to the health of the environment but our personal health and overall quality of life.
As part of the solution, a policy for complete streets in Buffalo is not about pitting one mode of travel over another, rather it’s based upon returning balance. The design of our city dictates its use. If we can provide a sense of equilibrium back to a system established that limits our choices, we can begin to remove some of the barriers that are disenfranchising segments of our population, improve our air quality and reduce the epidemic of obesity. A conscious decision to reduce these consequences will be the beginning of a lasting positive legacy for future generations; the elusive goal of any responsible society.

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