Pedal Pushers 

School-age children may be the first generation in history to have a shorter life span than their parents.

This is a waste of money, appalling not only during shrinking governmental budgets, but also because there will be few — if any — implementation dollars once this duplicate plan is completed. None of the nine metro-area governments will be bound to live by the plan.

For $500,000, traffic planners like Mike Sawyer, or park enthusiasts like Ralph White, could do work to decrease the numbers of our kids getting fat, the costs of our health care and our trade deficit, and to increase our fitness and foreign policy options.

Yes, all these would be baby steps, but at least they'd be in the right direction. Not half-million-dollar steps that, as a VCU professor put it, only indicate that "VDOT is ... throwing money at a consultant."

The consultant, Kimley-Horn, while projecting that only 200 people will comment in 19 hours of public hearings, emphasizes it has no responsibility to put reality behind the probable $6,000-a-page words.

America's childhood obesity rate is skyrocketing, growing 300 percent in three decades, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. During the same period, the number of kids walking or biking to school has dropped from six in 10 to one in 10, and — with obesity claiming $117 billion and 300,000 lives annually — the surgeon general now begs us to get "30 minutes of moderate exercise" daily.

"School-age children today may be the first generation in history to have a shorter life span than their parents," says John Burke of the President's Council on Fitness and Sports.

Meanwhile, America has been at war with Iraq over what some claim is our need for oil. Whether they are right, much of the world hates us because we cavalierly use so much petroleum.

Today, America daily imports 8.5 million barrels of oil to sink into our gasoline tanks. Daily. We pay $90.2 billion annually to import it. With 5 percent of the world's population, we have only 2.7 percent of the world's oil reserves.

Yet we use one in four gallons of the world's gasoline.

We drive to malls to go on walks. We drive to restrooms 200 yards away at campgrounds. We drive our kids to school a few blocks away.

Is there any wonder we don't know our neighbors? That our kids don't love the outdoors? That the armed forces must build bone mass in recruits?

If just enough Americans got out of cars to ease rush-hour traffic delays, federal research indicates we'd save 7.3 million gallons of gasoline annually.

Today, if this war has any connection to oil, I can understand why President Bush is in it. We've tied his hands — as well as the hands of future presidents — behind his back.

We've mortgaged our children so we could drive anywhere at anytime for anything. Thoughtlessly, we've played into the hands of people who want to end our way of life.

None of the 11 OPEC nations is a true democracy. Two, Venezuela and Nigeria, are today undergoing massive political upheaval; the other nine are Islamic. Two in three gallons of the world's oil lie in Persian Gulf states.

"The good Lord didn't see fit to put oil and gas only where there are democratic regimes friendly to the United States," laments Vice President Dick Cheney.

Meanwhile, with $500,000 and a federal mandate stating, "Bicycling and walking facilities will be incorporated into all transportation projects," VDOT is having an existing plan redone?

Instead, let's give that kind of money to Richmond traffic engineer Mike Sawyer or James River Park manager Ralph White, both of whom are behind the only ongoing bicycle/pedestrian projects in Richmond.

"We need a city which is livable," says Sawyer. "Bike/ped helps solve everything."

With $1,200, a little foresight and simple jawboning, Sawyer got 20 blocks of Riverside Drive stripped for bicycling this year during a repaving project. He'd love an ordinance codifying "travel demand management" into future construction projects.

Any edict demanding that all road work include bike lanes and sidewalks unless there are extenuating circumstances would match federal law and help one of Richmond's worst statistics.

According to the 2000 Census, one fifth of 1 percent of Richmond commuters arrives on a bicycle. This number is the lowest in Virginia, and it compares horribly to Williamsburg's 3.9 percent of workers who arrive on two wheels.

Williamsburg's bike/ped planning price tag? Zero.

In the decade since Williamsburg, James River County and York County began planning, they have constructed 40 miles of protected bike/walk space, all with federal Transportation Equity Act and Congestion Mitigation money.

The entities have "institutionalized" bike/ped thinking in paving contractors, engineers and architects, ensuring continued growth of bike/ped.

Today, federal money to build possible Richmond-area projects is drying up. With President Bush urging overall transportation funds decrease by $5 billion, even if bike/ped keeps 10 percent — a big if — Virginia will rank 44th in proportional spending for alternative transportation.

VDOT's bike/ped coordinator concedes the state will likely find no money to build any replan suggestions.

"We need that $500,000 in material," says White, who builds trails at James River Park with volunteers. "With $500,000 in sign posts and signs, that would amount to something.

"Why not put it into something to show?" White asks. "Is your goal to get people bicycling or to fill in the checks on the form?" S

Randy Salzman is an avid bicycle commuter and teaches mass communications at Virginia Union University.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.




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