Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Walking's Worth the (Lack of) Weight

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Walking's Worth the (Lack of) Weight

Article excerpt

If you don't walk, you get fat.

That's the seven-syllable summary of a story a friend emailed me last week.

"Obesity is hurting the economy in surprising ways," Bloomberg Business scolded, relying in part on a University of Illinois study that said the surge in driving since the 1950s is behind the bump in America's belt size.

My emailing friend, Tom Armstrong, chaired the city's Planning Commission for more than a decade ending in 2005. He's an inveterate walker and big on the idea of "traffic calming," installing traffic meters to slow traffic and give pedestrians a fighting chance to cross the road. Some years ago he got a string of meters installed on what had been a four-lane speedway around Allegheny Center on the North Side, four lanes circling a mall that died in the '90s.

"That's one more lane than the Parkway West," Mr. Armstrong said incredulously.

We talked in Crazy Mocha at the corner of Federal and North, less than a half-mile walk from my home. He showed me an app on his smartphone that said he'd walked 187 miles in January while vacationing in Flat-as-a-Pancake, Florida. Last month he logged 102 in slippy Pittsburgh.

He didn't have to sell me on walking. I hate to pay to park and I'm not too keen on gym memberships either. I also like the way a walk shows me my city in slow-mo. I'm not sure I trust the stat cited in the Bloomberg story that suggests it's costing us $2.5 billion more each year in gasoline to carry overweight Americans, but I do believe the way we've designed too many communities shows up in their residents' design.

Quick story: About five years ago I drove to an evening event at a suburban church. I was struck by how dark and empty (of anything but drivers) the residential streets were. There were no streetlights or sidewalks and thus you'd have to be brave or crazy to walk in this burb at night.

When I arrived at the church hall, almost everyone seemed to have about 10 pounds on a similar group I'd recently encountered not 10 miles away in Dormont. I couldn't help thinking that Dormont, a streetcar suburb with streetlights, sidewalks and walkable destinations, gave residents healthy workouts just going about their lives. …

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