Walking, bicycling and using public transit to get around on a daily basis are what we call “active transportation.” Active transportation can be used to get to work, go shopping, get to school, and for social activities. Any amount of walking and bicycling is good for our health and can prevent many diseases caused by being overweight or obese, such as heart disease and Type II diabetes.
Over the last 50 years, we have built roads and neighborhoods in such a way that we have also built physical activity out of our lives. In many places, it is dangerous to walk across the street or for a child to walk or bike to school.
Before people can choose to use active transportation, we must change our environment to make it safe to walk, bike, or take the bus, train or BART. Public transit is also active transportation because most public transit trips start or end with a walk or bike ride.
Many people in San Mateo County cannot walk or bike because it isn’t safe. Every year, more than 500 bicyclists and pedestrians are injured in San Mateo County. And in just four years, more than 50 people were killed while biking or walking.
To Make Our Roads Safe for Everyone, Consider the 8-80 Rule
When we build roads, we don’t build one road for new drivers and a separate road for experienced drivers. When creating sidewalks and bike lanes, we need to make sure that we’re building them for all people, not just for experienced cyclists and physically fit pedestrians.
Here’s how to assess whether the roads where you live or work are safe for everyone:
Step 1: Think of a child you know who is around 8 years old. This could be anyone - a son or daughter, grandchild, sister, brother, cousin, neighbor, etc.
Step 2: Think of an adult you know who is around 80 years old. This could be a parent, grandparent, friend, former co-worker, neighbor, etc.
Step 3: Ask yourself: Would you send that 8-year-old out with the 80-year-old on a walk, or a bike ride on a nearby sidewalk or bike lane? If you would, then it passes the 8-80 test, and it’s safe enough for most people to use. If not, it fails the test, and we need to work harder to make it safe and inviting for all people.
This rule may seem simple, but when we actually think about this, most of the places in our communities that have been built for walking and biking are not safe enough for people ages 8 through 80.
What Does the Research Say?
- San Mateo County is ranked the fifth most dangerous county for pedestrians in California. Source
- More - and better - sidewalks are linked with higher rates of walking and a lower likelihood of being overweight.
- Most studies of children and teens show that walking or biking to school is linked with higher rates of physical activity. Source
- People who reported having access to sidewalks were 20% more likely to be physically active than those who said they had no access to sidewalks.
- The extra walking related to transit is estimated to save $5,500 per person in a lifetime of health-related costs.
For Planners and Elected Officials
- Building Health into San Mateo County Cities Toolkit, published by San Mateo County Health System, includes tools and recommendations for planners and community members about how to include health in planning decisions. The guide also highlights cities in San Mateo County that are making health a higher priority in their planning and land use processes.
- Increasing Physical Activity Through Community Design: A Guide for Public Health Practitioners and Livable Community Advocates
- How to Create and Implement Healthy General Plans
- Creating a Healthy Environment:. Promoting Public Health and Physical Activity Through Community Design
- The Built Environment and Health: 11 Profiles of Neighborhood Transformation
- New York City Active Design Guidelines
- Local Government Commission
- Institute for Local Government
- National Partnership for Sustainable Communities
- Environmental Protection Agency Smart Growth Tools
For Advocates and Residents
- San Mateo Countywide Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan
- Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition
- Great Communities Collaborative
- Bike San Mateo County
- San Mateo County C/CAG Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee Roster
- Grand Boulevard Initiative
- Plan Bay Area