Much Ado about Going Nowhere

Cars are the primary mode of transportation in the U.S. even for short distances, the excepts being a few large cities where parking and traffic congestion are insurmountably problematic.  Affordable cars and gasoline are considered by most a birthright since Henry Ford first made cars affordable to the average person.  For most of the world this is not true due to prohibitively high gasoline taxes used to develop public transportation and other things (see The Price we Pay for Gas in the US).

But there are alternatives to the use of cars if we are willing to get off our seats and use some human power to move ourselves from one place to another.  Ironically the U.S. has one of the greatest stores of transportation energy in the world but all we do is accumulate it to great excess.  That energy is body fat which is embarrassingly abundant and a major cause of medical complications such as diabetes, heart and coronary disease, skeletal problems, and added weight that our bodies are not designed to constantly bear.  We spend much money building it up and billions more dealing with.  Yet we are more fearful of Ebola, which has killed only a handful of Americans in the last century, than we are of obesity which kills more than one in four daily.

Another irony is that many people spend hours each week paying to exercise on machines going nowhere to burn off excess fat and keep fit when all they really need to do is walk to visit their friends or shop instead of walking on a treadmill to nowhere.  Or they can ride a bike to extend their range of travel elsewhere instead of peddling on a stationary bike to nowhere.  Or take public transportation if available everywhere instead of driving to the gym going nowhere.  Yes, it is less convenient than driving, but if you are already driving to the gym to walk and bike nowhere, why not instead actually use the legs you were born with to do what they were intended for?

Obesity is epidemic with children who eat far too much junk food that gets stored as fat then are driven by their parents to school or even sports activities not that far away.  Children need to be taught that walking and biking are not only healthy forms of exercise but great ways to travel otherwise they grow up without these values.  Owning a car with a lot of horses under the hood is cool.  Walking and biking are for sissies.  Kids walk far more with their finger on cellphones than walk and play outdoors.  Those are the value our kids now grow up with and the example parents reenforce.

Before the turn of the last century people used to walk in one year further than we now walk in a lifetime.  Our bodies were designed for mobility, not to be mobilized.  When we deny our bodies their normal functions there are consequences.  Fueling our bodies with enormous amounts of calories and providing no means of burning it off results in a great excess of fat which the body was not designed to handle.

Of course we all know this but we still do little to change our mechanized way of life.  We are simply too spoiled to change.  We keep on designing our houses, roadways, shopping centers, workplaces and huge parking lots to accommodate more cars.  Bike lanes and sidewalks are afterthoughts because few use them.  But this is causing our roadways to become increasingly congested.  So we widen our roads and freeways to accommodate the increase in auto traffic.

Why not narrow our streets, extend our bike lanes, and make our sidewalks more pleasant places to walk with lots of small shops with shaded sidewalks and plenty of bicycle parking instead of huge parking lots which could be better occupied by more shops or parks?  Parking lots occupy more valuable real estate than the businesses they serve.  One parking space can accommodate more than 20 bikes.  In some cities abroad bike lanes are placed between parked cars and sidewalks making bike riding much safer from traffic.  People are much healthier and far less obese.

We need to stop much ado about going nowhere.  There are people in other countries who cannot comprehend spending time and money at the gym going nowhere.  It really doesn’t make sense.

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