Monday, September 13, 2010

Q.C. in spotlight for sprawl, spread and Lynx

Posted By on Mon, Sep 13, 2010 at 1:25 PM

Reading this New York Times/ Greenwire article, by Gayathri Vaidyanathan, quoted below, I can't help but think of my own suburban Charlotte neighborhood. Within it's boundaries we have sidewalks. We also have tons of amenities nearby, many within a mile from my front door. But, once you walk outside of the neighborhood there are few sidewalks, there are people driving 60 mph on two-lane roads with hardly any shoulder for pedestrians and, to get to most of the stores and restaurants, pedestrians must cross large, dangerous intersections. So, we can walk to these places but, in doing so, we literally risk our lives. That means we don't walk anywhere. Instead, we drive the mile to the coffee shop, the tailor, the grocery store, the nail salon, the bank. Meanwhile, our asses continue to spread wider and wider and wider.

But, those of you near the Lynx line should be fairing better.

Car-loving Charlotte, N.C., home to strip malls and suburban sprawl, did everything right when putting in place its new light-rail transit system called the Lynx in 2007. The result: a ridership that doubled predictions, and an unexpected public health study that may be the first in proving that the built environment causes obesity.

Riding the rails can leave users an average of 6.5 pounds lighter than others, and 81 percent less likely to become obese over time, according to the study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

"If you lose about 5 to 10 percent of body weight, that might be enough to prevent conditions such as Type 2 diabetes," said Jean Gutierrez, visiting assistant professor of exercise science at George Washington University, and an exercise expert unconnected to the study.

Before this study, it was difficult to say for certain whether the features of the built environment, such as sprawl and miles of roadway, are directly responsible for obesity and related illness such as cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. Research can get confusing since a complex mix of choices can lead to weight gain, including people's attitudes.

Read the rest of the article here.

It's ironic, isn't it? Charlotte continues to get national praise for the Lynx system while people within the city continue to argue about its benefits. Meanwhile, there are a lot of us who would love to take the bus or the train or the trolley but we're simply too far away, trapped in suburbia.

I think I told you, a few months back, about some time I recently spent in Europe. One of the things my husband and I really enjoyed about the countries we visited was public transportation. We were always a short train ride away from anywhere we wanted to be. There, it's much more expensive and time consuming to get a driver's license and a car, so people walk, ride bikes and take mass transit. Even when you are in the 'burbs there, the streets are pedestrian friendly and a train station is never too far away. In fact, in many villages and cities there are pedestrian-only areas. It's glorious. We could learn a thing or two about how to encourage healthier — both for the environment and ourselves — means of transportation from the Europeans.

Here's a view inside Munich's main train station:

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