Walk This Way. Tom Samuels Striding Toward Healthy Communities Conference


Our daily experience of biking and walking is reuniting our contact with our bodie; the physical connection on moving from one place to another enables a completely new range of feelings when compared to what happens when driving a car.
What starts as a physical necessity of being more active with our body soon becomes a process to strengthen our mental health.
It is a mighty discovery to recognize the power of our body to be able to take us wherever we want; and, with only some training and patience, we can achieve any challenge we put to ourselves. This affirmation to be more comfortable walking long distances and enduring running or biking for hours, compels our mind to be constantly in contact with our body; programming, managing and supporting with its willfulness all the body's efforts. We can mention also the soul, which always surfaces when the body is well integrated; the mind is relinquished, and we contact that self that makes us feel what we really are; unique.
Unfortunately this state of well being is constantly jeopardized by another feeling that can be very intense; vulnerability.
Biking outside protected trails; on streets shared with cars, lets us perceive how fragile we are compared to those tons of metal skedaddling around us. The bike lanes are definitely a huge improvement even if one has to constantly restrain his mind from thinking that it is only an act of faith that keeps any car or truck from crossing that thin line.
Walking through the city of Indianapolis is even more depressing and scary. Think about living in Castleton, the super suburb on the northeast side of the city; an area that forgot to consider the possibility that a pedestrian may want to cross a street. Highly populated areas like 82nd Street, Allisonville Road and Keystone Avenue have few if any signalized crosswalks, and unless you are brave enough to challenge cars speeding at 45-50 mph you don't have any chance to reach even the grocery store in front of your house without a car. There are hundreds of miles of streets like this throughout the city.
Depression is added to your sense of vulnerability when you are at a cross street, feeling stupid and powerless as those cars move perfectly synchronized passed you, and you are there, on your feet and nowhere to go. In this situation as a pedestrian you loose your identity; you don't exist unless you take into serious account that you are really brainless adventuring by yourself through those streets.
In the past twenty years trails have allowed us to rediscover the contact with our body, but this process has gone far beyond the need of physical exercise to become a social identity which gathers a wide range of interest and purposes that have in common one thing: be healthy people living in an improved community with a cleaner environment.
After 50 years of a car-centric transportation system, the needs of these people are yet to be recognized. On the street pedestrians and bikers don't have a clear identity; alien subjects easier to dodge but definitely without rights. This established misperception that the transportation system cannot be changed unless a radical and very expensive transformation of our urban landscape occurs---where cars are banned or severely limited in their efficiency of moving, is debunked by Tom Samuels through the knocking down of myths and provision of facts showing how to truly make walking a safe method of travel for everyone.
There is hope for all of the vulnerable people; the young, the old, the pedestrians with disabilities.
Tom Samuels, in his experience of leading the Canadian Safe Routes to School Program (SRT2S) in Toronto, and then taking on 450,000 school children in 600 schools in Chicago to implement a similar program says that it is now possible with the added benefit of saving a lot of the money already budgeted to be spent every year on transportation plans.Tom’s vision, ensconced in the sensible world of “less is more” has already been implemented in several projects in Chicago. His work helps us to better envision what our city can be on the day when wheelchairs, pedestrian, bikers, and all the people on non-motorized vehicles will become social identities recognized by the transportation plan.
Article by Guido Maregatti and Tina Jones