Here in the tony NASA community of Clear Lake, we've managed to put men on the moon and space shuttles in orbit, but we can't seem to put sidewalks beneath kids. This dash cam screengrab tells that sorry tale:
|El Camino Real southbound opposite El Camino Village Drive, within the city limits of the City of Webster, Texas,|
in a mixed middle-class residential and retail area less than one mile from Johnson Space Center,
May 8, 2011, about 12:50 PM
This right here is why people don't walk in our communities. This is a big reason why parents don't let their children play outside, the children who grow increasingly fat as they sit for hours each day in front of video games instead. This is no joke - it's dangerous for kids to venture outside in areas where appropriate infrastructure does not exist. If this stumbling boy had fallen into the traffic lane, he would have been killed instantly - and by me, a driver who tries harder than almost everyone else to protect cyclists and pedestrians.
Twenty-five years ago when I first set foot in America as a young university student, I was awed by the great displays of wealth that are everywhere, but horrified by the absence of municipal planning. I was dumbfounded to see a lack of pedestrian access in so many areas. Like many bootstrapping immigrants, I'm a staunch conservative, bordering on libertarian. I'm a minimalist on issues of public spending, but there are basic necessities that governments must provide (or require developers to provide) if societies are to prosper, and diversified transportation systems are solidly on that very short list. When I first saw residential areas like this one above constructed without sidewalks, I had a "red alert" reaction. I knew instantly that this shortsightedness would come back to haunt America in ways that nobody was imagining in those years.
And today America struggles with epidemic levels of obesity, its comorbid diseases, and associated insupportable health care costs. We failed to sow sidewalks and other infrastructure and lifestyle precedents that accommodate normal outdoor physical activity, and now we are reaping the natural results of those policies.
A quarter century after I first witnessed scenes like that dash cam screengrab above, my "red alert" is stronger than ever, because we have not reached a tipping point of improvement. In many new and redeveloping neighborhoods, developers are now compelled by law to include sidewalks, but not in others, and municipalities themselves are still coming up shockingly short where infrastructure is concerned.
|In this City of Houston "tear down" neighborhood shown in aerial and street views, prices for condominiums start at about a half million dollars, and some include backyard swimming pools. But no pedestrian improvements were required to be included in this less-than-ten-year-old redevelopment.|
|Much closer to home, in fact, right across the street from our own neighborhood here in the south Clear Lake area, we see a League City-owned park constructed between 1995 and 2000 (per historical aerial photos). This is a MUNICIPAL property, a PARK, and still, a simple sidewalk was not required as part of its substantial construction.|
Doesn't it speak volumes that the only safe way to access a public facility ostensibly devoted to physical fitness is by motor vehicle?!
Low-resolution screengrab on the morning of May 9, 2011 from the League City page describing planned sidewalk and trail projects, as seen at:http://www.leaguecity.com/index.aspx?NID=1551
A computer glitch, no doubt, but an eerie one.