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America Walks Attends Sustainable Mobility Forum

America Walks’ Program Coordinator Crystal Bowne attended the Transatlantic Dialogue on Sustainable Mobility hosted by the German American Chambers of Commerce (GACC) in Little Rock, Arkansas on September 13, 2018. The forum’s theme was “Walkability as the Blueprint for Smart Cities and Work Environment” and included panelists and speakers from Germany and Central Arkansas.

Transatlantic Dialogue on Sustainable Mobility panel discusses active transportation.

The first panel focused on the importance of active transportation and public health. Lack of physical activity is a risk factor for all the major chronic diseases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one-half of adults in the US suffers from at least one chronic disease. Likewise, only about half of all adults meet the recommended guidelines for physical activity. Unfortunately, in many places, the built environment promotes sedentary behavior over active transportation. Two major discussion topics during this panel were inclusion and equity. City infrastructure (e.g. sidewalks) must be accessible to people of all abilities. Furthermore, health disparities exist for lower-income individuals and people of color, and these vulnerable populations often live in the least walkable neighborhoods of our cities and towns.

The second panel centered around how corporations and other organizations can promote active transportation. One of the major topics concerned how a healthy workforce contributes to a successful business. Panelists discussed incentives to increase employee physical activity like extra time off and “walking meetings.” Other ideas were “walk/bike to work” events and installing showers and lockers for employees who bike or walk to work.

An aerial shot of Little Rock, the capital and most populous city of Arkansas.

The third and final panel looked at ways the City of Little Rock can promote active transportation. Compared to some US cities, Little Rock’s population is less dense and more spread out. In addition, many people from surrounding towns and cities commute to Little Rock for work. One panelist suggested neighborhoods recapture transportation at the grid-level by advocating for road diets and diverting commuter traffic to the major highways, like I-30, I-630, and I-430. A comprehensive approach would be to not only recapture transportation at the grid-level, but also provide alternative transit options for commuters, like a light rail to and from surrounding areas. Multi-modal mobility (that includes walking, of course!) is the only way to truly serve the needs of all community members for all trips.

People-first design on display in Dresden, Germany.

Urban planners from Germany presented the City of Dresden and the City of Göttingen as case studies. One major difference between these cities and US cities is they do not allow major interstates to intersect with their downtown areas, thus preventing the congestion we often find in US cities.

Another major difference is German cities boast vibrant active transportation systems (e.g. bike freeways), so cars are not needed. For example, in Göttingen 50% of the population walk or bike as their primary mode of transportation; whereas, only 37% travel by car. In Dresden, 27% of the population travels by walking, 12% by bicycle, 22% by transit, and 39% by car. Transportation plans from both cities also highlight sustainable mobility as a means to reduce the impact of fossil fuels on the environment.

The symposium captured many of the questions facing the walking movement as we try to make walking part of the daily routine of all community members.