How is it that the French – whose national symbol is a pound of butter in the shape of a guillotine – are so darn thin?
OK, the part about the butter guillotine I made up. But still. The French practically bathe in butter or at least their food does and yet the streets of Paris are littered with gazelle-like women who barely weigh 110 pounds soaking wet.
But here’s the thing: the French walk. A lot. And that’s partly because their cities and towns are laid out in ways that make them very walkable and bikeable. Americans who visit Europe often return home marveling at how much walking they did in towns and cities that are pedestrian friendly.
I was reminded of this last week at a meeting in which people complained that the obesity epidemic in the U.S. is linked to the fact that American suburbanites drive most places because their homes are clustered in subdivisions, away from stores and other services. Some don’t have sidewalks or bike paths that would make it safe to walk to town. Some don’t have downtowns – only a smattering of strip malls.
Go to New York City, they said. Go to cities and towns in Europe. People walk everywhere. People are thinner.
While I didn’t go to Paris or New York City last week, I did spend a lot of time in Emmaus, which is mostly walkable and bikeable. I live in Salisbury on the border with Emmaus and when I needed a photo of the geese at Furnace Dam Park in Emmaus, I walked there. When I needed a photo of the Emmaus Community Pool, I biked there. I used less gas and got more exercise than normal.
I asked Christopher Kocher, president of Wildlands Conservancy in Emmaus, what such towns could do to make their communities more walkable and bikeable. He said some are already working toward that end.
Kocher pointed out that Wildlands Conservancy is working with several communities on the ambitious Jordan Creek Greenway plan to connect Allentown with the Trexler Nature Preserve by way of a 12-mile trail that goes through Whitehall, South Whitehall and North Whitehall.
Some communities are also requiring more pedestrian paths from developers building homes. Kocher said Whitehall Township recently got a builder to agree to put a walking path from the homes he was developing to Egypt Memorial Park so pedestrians won’t have to walk on Route 329.
Whitehall was also at the forefront of the rails-to-trails trend, in which abandoned railroad beds are converted into walking and biking paths. The Ironton Rail Trail spans more than nine miles through Whitehall, Coplay and North Whitehall Township.
Emmaus just got more walkable with the newly opened Bob Rodale South Mountain Gateway Trail that starts off Kline’s Lane and connects to Alpine Street, which is an access point to the Wildlands Conservancy South Mountain Preserve. The 335-acre preserve has about eight miles of trails.
“It gives people an opportunity to see and be in touch with nature in a very significant way,” Kocher said. “The borough did a great job; they did a land swap and were able to connect that trail to green space.”
So while it might be too late for some Lehigh Valley communities to develop real downtowns, it’s not too late to give residents alternatives to a life of driving.