London Community News
By Paul Everest/London Community News/Twitter: @PaulEverest
With the goal of having more London residents use leg power over gas power, the Middlesex-London Health Unit is pitching ideas to the city on how to make the community more friendly to walkers, cyclists and rollerbladers.
The health unit unveiled a new report Friday (Aug. 10) entitled Healthy City/Active London which includes 19 recommendations on how the city can revise its Official Plan to cater to “human-powered” transportation.
The report, which suggests that active transportation such as walking and cycling is crucial for a community’s health, economy and environmental stability, also serves as the health unit’s submission to ReThink London, a yearlong program which calls on individuals, businesses and organizations across London to submit ideas on how to improve the city.
Dr. Jason Gilliland, an associate professor of geography, health sciences and pediatrics at Western University and director of the university’s Human Environments Analysis Laboratory (HEAL), wrote the report on behalf of the health unit with Doug Rivet and Steve Fitzpatrick, research associates at HEAL.
Framed by statistical evidence showing the number of London residents who are overweight or obese is increasing, the recommendations in the report call on the city to create and maintain infrastructure throughout the city which encourages active transportation.
Such infrastructure includes trails, walkways and bicycle lanes which connect all parts of the city.
The report also recommends that the city put a greater emphasis on active transportation over the use of cars in its planning and design policies.
The city should push developers and builders to create projects that are friendly to active transportation, the report states, including dedications of land for trails, bike lanes and recreation spaces.
And the Official Plan should be revised so that, through collaborations with local school boards, new schools are built in locations that minimize the distance students must travel to school and safe, properly signed routes are planned out to encourage children to walk or cycle to school.
Overall, the report calls on the city to promote active transportation as the preferred means of travel within the community and municipal policies and plans focusing on pedestrians and cyclists need to be created or updated so that London keeps pace with other cities across North America.
“Active transportation requires, from an Official Plan point of view, building in the language and requirements that as new neighbourhoods are built, as new businesses are planned in terms of where they’re located, that we will look at ensuring that the infrastructure is there to make it easy for people to walk, to cycle, to be active to get to these locations as opposed to having to use a car,” said Dr. Graham Pollett, the health unit’s medical officer of health.
He added the health unit has had a number of discussions with city councilors and planners about the suggestions included in the report.
But it is the community at large, Pollett said, that needs to adopt a preference for active transportation.
“It requires a real behavioural shift on the part of many of us and that takes time. So we have to demonstrate to them the benefits of becoming more physically active,” he said. “Most people do not recognize that overweightness, obesity, is a real challenge to communities.”
One way to address that challenge is for people to become more physically active, Pollett added, and one way to achieve that goal is to have a community that makes it easier for people to be active.
“We’re not asking people to run marathons. We’re asking them to instead of thinking of using the car, can they walk, can they cycle to wherever it is that they’re going,” he said. “For people who already have some challenges in terms of activities, there are different things that people can do.
“Public swimming pools are a good example where there’s no stress on joints, where people can avail themselves of an activity that will have the type of benefit that we’re looking for, that will address things like obesity, being overweight, cardiovascular disease.”
Sean Galloway, the city’s manager of urban design, attended the unveiling of the report at the health unit and said he sees many opportunities for London if residents are onside with the recommendations.
“The community has to want it. Part of this paper is about changing the notion of culture.”
He added the biggest barrier to turning the recommendations into municipal policies is money, but making those ideas reality could also provide financial benefits for the city.
“These are not only investments in health, but these are economic investments because these are the things that attract people to cities,” he said.