Promote Walking or Biking, Mason Expert Urges Community Leaders

Posted: August 17, 2009 at 1:04 am, Last Updated: August 14, 2009 at 8:39 am

By Tara Laskowski

Ed Maibach. Creative Services photo

Ed Maibach. Creative Services photo

About half of the car trips in the United States cover less than five miles — a distance easily navigated by walking or cycling, Mason communication professor Edward Maibach points out in a recent Preventative Medicine article.

Reducing short-distance car trips has multiple benefits. It decreases car accidents, benefits the environment and increases physical health and activity, Maibach says.

An expert in climate change communication research, Maibach urges community leaders to make promoting physical activity a priority.

“There are lots of proven low-cost options that communities can use to encourage people to get out of their cars and walk or ride instead,” he says.

“Use of these options helps people remain healthy (by promoting physical activity and reducing obesity) and helps reduce heat-trapping pollutants that cause global warming.”

In the article, Maibach suggests that to promote active transport, policy makers and government officials at all levels should look at communication, marketing and policy enhancements that can be implemented relatively easily.

Maibach cites the web site Active Living by Design as showcasing many examples of successful programs, such as city-bike sharing, customized walking or cycling maps and grassroots campaigns.

“One of my favorite examples is ‘walking school buses’ in which children and a few parents walk together to the local school,” says Maibach.

With most car trips less than five miles, walking or biking is a realistic alternative to driving a car.

Community leaders can implement policy changes to make forgoing the car a more attractive alternative.

He also suggests that policy changes such as reducing speed limits, giving cyclists priority at intersections and closing some roads to cars can also encourage people to consider alternative ways of commuting.

“There is no one magic bullet. All of these examples can be effective here in the U.S., and all should be implemented in as many communities as possible. The more that are implemented, the more we will wean people away from sole reliance on their cars when they could be walking and/or riding, and improving their health as a result.”

Maibach is the director of the Center for Climate Change Communication at Mason. His work over the past 25 years has helped define the fields of public health communication and social marketing, and his book, “Designing Health Messages: Approaches from Communication Theory and Public Health Practice,” is widely used by academics and practitioners alike.

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