Tuesday, June 20, 2017

How far is it?

After spending a month getting around by wheelchair a year ago, I'm much more aware of how the physical environment influences my ability to move around and explore my surroundings.

In my usual healthy state, I can almost always combine walking, biking and public transit to travel wherever I want to go in my city.

But even then, my choices of where to go are influenced by environmental factors.

For example, there are five public libraries within 2 miles of my house.

to Madrona/Sally Goldmark Branch: 1.2 miles
to Capitol Hill Branch: 1.2 miles
to Montlake Branch: 1.3 miles
to Douglass-Truth Branch: 1.6 miles
to Central Library: 2.0 miles

I usually prefer to travel by bike.  The easiest library to reach is not the closest; I choose the low traffic and "mostly flat" route to the Douglass Truth Library most of the time.

Traveling by wheelchair and public transit last year, Douglass-Truth and Capitol Hill were a close tie. I could reach either library without either transferring to a second bus or negotiating a dauntingly steep hill.  Douglass-Truth requires a longer, more circuitous bus ride; Capitol Hill means a longer roll along the sidewalk.

Walking, I usually prefer the Capitol Hill Branch.  Getting there requires climbing a steep hill - both ways! - but there are interesting destinations along the way, including grocery stores, restaurants, and lots of elegant old houses with colorful yards.  Even though Madrona/Sally Goldmark is the same distance away, the route there doesn't include other destinations so it "feels" much farther.

The Central Library has amenities that the other libraries lack - I love the Seattle Room on the tenth floor! - but getting there is much more challenging than the 2-mile distance would suggest.  It requires a transfer to get there by bus, and the bus stops are on steep hills making wheelchair access daunting. Hills, traffic, and inadequate bike lanes discourage bike access.  So I only rarely visit this Seattle treasure.

Distance is only a minor factor in determining "how far away" these five libraries are from my home. Hills, traffic, interesting surroundings and bike infrastructure count for much more.

Move More - But Don't Stop Driving!

Good health requires movement. We see that advice over and over. This weekend, the Seattle Times Magazine featured "functional fitness" - how to incorporate movement into your life without setting aside time for "exercise."

The two movement experts interviewed for the article had numerous practical suggestions to help us move more:  walk more! Stretch your feet! Sit on the floor!

All good so far.  We're given several examples of people who walk up to three miles for practical reasons, like getting to the grocery store.

But the article fails to explore practical ways to move more while traveling longer distances: public transportation, and my favorite movement amplifier, the bicycle. This article suggests several times that we increase our activity by "parking farther away."  But why not consider leaving the car behind altogether?

Granted, when you ride public transit, you spend most of the ride sitting (or standing).  But research shows that getting to and from the bus stop or train station allows transit riders to meet or exceed daily recommended activity.  Why not put in a plug for transit while promoting active living?

An even more glaring omission: the bicycle.  The bicycle shows up over and over as a symbol of "healthy living."  More and more urban families are turning to the bicycle as the most efficient and most fun means of everyday transportation.  It's even possible to get to the Great Outdoors and go camping by bicycle.

Have these advocates for "functional fitness" never heard about bicycles?