Saving Lives With Urban Planning

<p>With auto accidents the leading cause of death for teenagers, there's yet another reason to build communities that don't make us dependent on our cars.</p>
December 25, 2007, 11am PST | Christian Madera | @cpmadera
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"What we have in countless suburban communities across the country is what a recent New York Times article on teen auto deaths describes as "pod" development. Modern urban design puts schools one place, houses another, shops and restaurants in another, "all in separate pods, the distances bridgeable only by driving."

Put another way, it's a car culture. Walking anywhere is often impractical, so much so that many cities don't even bother to install sidewalks. And bicycles? They're simply uncool.

When I was a child growing up in a smallish Texas town, the two bike racks in front of the junior high would have as many as 200 bicycles attached. At the school day's end, the kids would bike home all over town, anywhere from a few blocks to a few miles.

That sounds idyllic, but as soon as those same youngsters moved on to high school, riding a bicycle was simply considered uncool, so uncool that there was no bike rack at the high school. It's pretty much the same today, though there's an additional safety consideration. So many drivers have grown unaccustomed to dealing with pedestrians and cyclists that they consider them unwanted intrusions. They don't respect them, which makes it dangerous to be on the streets in anything that isn't wrapped in sheet metal.

Most likely nothing short of $5-a-gallon gasoline will affect this trend, though maybe it's time that the Arlingtons and Mansfields of the world ponder a simple question: how to make it easier for people -- particularly younger people -- to get around without a car."

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Published on Friday, December 21, 2007 in Fort Worth Star Telegram
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