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Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

LYONS: Make cities for people, not cars

The average American spends 17,600 minutes driving per year. This over-reliance on cars in the United States is detrimental to our cities and communities. 

Many cities in the U.S. are built in a way which makes Americans have almost no choice but to go behind the wheel for most of their daily activities outside of the house. This is the result of urban sprawl, or the rapid expansion of cities usually with low density housing and single-use zoning.

As a result of this, places are connected through miles of highways and streets making travel by anything but car impossible. Not only is urban sprawl connected to increased energy usage, pollution and traffic congestion, but it also harms communities through social isolation.

A study by the American Journal of Public Health showed that people living in areas that are less reliant on cars are more likely to know their neighbors, participate politically and overall be more involved in their community. Conversely, individuals who live in car-dependent neighborhoods were shown to feel less connected to their community, had lower levels of trust and were less likely to know their neighbors.

Social isolation like this can lead to anxiety, depression, substance abuse and suicidal thoughts. It can even impact physical health by increasing unhealthy habits, stress and lack of sleep.

So what’s the alternative to expansive highways and sprawling cities? Walkable neighborhoods. 

Walkable neighborhoods have many social, environmental and health benefits.

Walkable cities also foster social interaction and a greater sense of community. Actually seeing and running into people in a community promotes social connectedness. 

Because residents are able to walk to wherever they need to go on a daily basis, the need for cars is lessened. This can minimize noise and air pollution and allow for portions of the road to be repurposed as green spaces.

Walkable cities allow for activity and exercise to be built into daily life. Instead of driving 15 minutes to a grocery store you can walk there instead. Walkable cities have been shown to correlate to lower rates in obesity, diabetes, asthma and heart disease.

Not only do walkable cities improve physical health, but they also improve mental health. Walking raises endorphins and lowers stress. A person with a one-hour commute has to earn 40% more money to be as satisfied with life as someone who walks to the office.

So, how can the walkability of cities actually be improved?

Firstly, pedestrian first policies need to be created and enforced. We currently live in a world where cars are put first in terms of infrastructure and design. Prioritizing pedestrians means building better and safer bike lanes and creating higher density residential areas with more apartments and condos and less single-family units. This makes it easier to build things that people need close to where they live.

Making people feel safe walking is a large factor in improving walkability. One thing that makes pedestrians feel unsafe walking is cars and the speed they drive at. Implementing traffic calming measures such as traffic circles, speed bumps and raised intersections help to slow down drivers and increase pedestrian safety.

Finally, simply continuing the conversation about making cities more walkable is helpful to deter car dependency and encourage community. Making it known to city officials that citizens want to feel safer and more connected to their communities through increased walkability can make a difference.

This story was written by Kirsten Lyons. She can be reached at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Kirsten Lyons, Assistant Opinions Editor
Kirsten Lyons is a sophomore from St. Paul, Minnesota studying journalism and peace studies and is the Assistant Opinions Editor at the Marquette Wire for the 2023-2024 school year. Outside of the Wire she enjoys knitting, reading and trying out new recipes. She is excited to grow as a journalist at the Wire and help others do the same.

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