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The Walkability Institute

General safety is of course a concern of young and old alike. In Jewish communities elderly folk often walk alone to and from daily prayer services, study halls, lectures in dark, unsafe areas, over surfaces that are rife with obstructions. A cane or walker may readily get caught, causing falls with potentially disastrous consequences. Passageways can be narrow, with protruding fences or shrubbery catching clothing. Potholes are a real physical danger at night as well. Even during the day, a grandmother pushing a stroller can confront cracked sidewalks and uncontrolled traffic patterns. Through federal government support the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute has developed a structure offering community leaders and private citizens a true opportunity to correct such hazards.

Research Findings

Research has documented that:

  • The  use  of  walking  and  cycling for transport is directly related to improved health and longevity in adults aged 50 and above.
  • People who live in areas that are more conducive to walking and cycling are more likely to engage in these forms of active transport.
  • Differences in the built environment, availability of public transit, street connectivity, housing density, and mixed land use, influence the likelihood that people will use these modes of transport.
  • Walking may be just as effective as running to benefit heart, reducing high blood pressure, and control cholesterol.
  • Daily physical activity protects against Alzheimer’s disease, even in elderly adults over 80.
  • Physical inactivity contributes to increased risk of chronic diseases and health conditions.

American Journal of Preventive Medicine; US Environmental Protection Agency; American Heart Association;

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  • The Talmud teaches that walking uneven and difficult terrain reduces longevity and causes premature aging.

Tractate Eruvin 56a

Practice Implementation

While such moderate and relatively effortless physical activity as walking has great benefit, there is a concern. Senior citizens who travel on foot are injured by motor vehicles at disproportionately high rates. Across the nation, older people are over represented in intersection fatalities by a factor of more than two-to-one. A New York City study noted that seniors constitute 12% of the population but comprise 39% of pedestrian fatalities citywide.

There is a national grass roots movement underway, including federal funding, to address this concern. It is buttressed   by   the experience that if communities are designed to be accessible and safe for seniors, they will be accessible and safe for all residents, including children.

Maintaining  surfaces  to  allow people to walk without fear of falling, creating walking routes in and near neighborhoods that connect to stops for buses, trains and trolleys, changing the programming of traffic lights and calling on citizens to step up their participation in local planning efforts to  find  sites for new walking paths are among the outcomes of this multi-faceted effort.

The  federal   government   through its  Environment   Protection   Agency is providing a wealth of information, support and advocacy for the establishment of new initiatives for redesigning communities to adapt to health needs of an aging population. The Walkability Institute  is  one  example. It is a comprehensive program that guides community leaders for self- advocacy, engage in the political process, mobilize the neighborhood to affect change where appropriate. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) also provides detailed resources for  effecting environmental improvements for pedestrian safety including Road Safety Audit, Toolbox of Safety Interventions, Crosswalk improvements, Intersection design/physical improvements  as  well as signal hardware and technology. Local cities have followed suit. The NYC Department of Transportation has adopted a Safe Route for Seniors program uses federal funding for pedestrian safety improvements to better encourage senior mobility and physical activity. The New York Academy of Medicine, the Mayor’s Office, and City Council launched Age- friendly NYC.

 The Walkability Institute

The Walkable and Livable Communities Institute’s   Walkability    Workbook   is a free guidance document that gives community members the resources needed to deliver walkability workshops and conduct walking audits on their own; to empower residents and leaders alike to improve health, well-being, economic vitality, environmental sustainability and quality of life by assessing their streets and prioritizing opportunities; to create walkable places, livable towns and better built environments.

Click on http://www.walklive.org/ project/walkability-workbook to access the workbook and get started!

Fort Lauderdale, San Diego, Detroit, Philadelphia, Dallas, as well as other communities and neighborhoods across the country large and small are utilizing the workbook and mobilizing to improve their local environment.

Jewish community leaders should consider doing likewise, availing themselves of this momentum and accommodating the special needs of its elders due to cultural practice and basic life routines. It may seem to be an overly ambitious undertaking, but it is working in locals throughout the United States.

Discussion

The goal of the Walkability Workshop is to engage communities in making streets and neighborhoods more walkable, safe, livable, healthy and welcoming. Our discussion has relevance both on a personal level and a communal level.

Walking regularly is one of the safest and most effective forms of exercise available. You can proceed at your own pace and reap the benefits – including a healthier heart, lower stress and higher energy levels. For those who say they don’t have enough time to exercise, walking can be transformed into utility,  a mode of transportation. Incorporate your walk with a routine activity. Don’t think of it as exercise. For example, every time you go to the local food store, walk there instead of driving. It is also helpful to have a standing date with a “walking buddy,” a “chavrusa” to keep you on track.

On a communal level, becoming active today in a Walkabilty project to make the environment more suitable for elders will have far reaching impact on the welfare of your families, neighbors and friends for years to come. Our communities should be engaged as are other neighborhoods across the nation in benefiting from this government sponsored initiative.

- RGB

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