Bob Ringstrom, St. Joseph
We should be able to start using the walking and biking paths in St Joseph any day now. Maybe in two to four weeks? The snow should melt by then. We can look forward to maybe six months of clear walking paths before the white stuff returns. But the question remains: why does snowfall have to inhibit safe use of public streets, roads and paths? We plow streets to promote commerce, traffic safety and a break from television. But why aren’t we promoting practical and healthy walking? It’s not because people in St Joseph don’t want to use the paths. Not at all! On the contrary, our recent long-range community-planning project stressed overwhelmingly that “walkability” of our community is a quality that’s important. Yet our walking and biking paths during the winter are left buried in snow – unused – the same paths new construction and property developments are pushed to include in plans submitted to the city.
The report generated by the Community Design Group under contract with the city of St Joseph speaks to this in numerous passages. It points to the pride and interest in the “walkable” pedestrian-oriented qualities that make St. Joseph appealing and livable. In public opinions solicited from the community we have asserted our emphasis on being a lively community. The report stresses this as follows:
“A healthy, safe and sustainable community offers streets that allow pedestrians, bicycle riders and motorists to interact safely with each other, and provides sidewalks, trails and bike lanes for active transportation.”
I understand not everyone is interested in biking or walking. But many are interested in traveling by foot when practical, economical and healthy. Unfortunately, and all too often, we are denied the safe and practical alternative to carbon footprint “tracking” and the noxious fumes from motor vehicles. Instead, pedestrians are forced to walk in icy streets with vehicle traffic where the dangers mount. Minnesota Statute 145A addresses it as a fundamental government responsibility to serve the broader public good with a healthy physical environment. That doesn’t suggest we simply marginalize any negative impact.
Taxes fund public health to staggering heights. The 2009 study: Levi, J. et al, “Prevention for a Healthier America” showed by investing $10 per person each year in proven community-based efforts such as encouraging walking or riding bicycles on pathways could save $16 billion in health costs in less than five years’ time! Or, if even just 10 percent of adults began regularly walking, the APHA projects $5.6 billion in heart-disease costs alone could be averted.
Earlier this winter, my wife and I walked on several occasions in spite of the snow-covered paths. We were frequently forced into the streets with motor vehicles. We would steady each other on our walks, in and out of the wet snow and slippery ice. On one occasion, we met another determined pedestrian, roughly in our age group. We chatted briefly about the walking conditions. She was using two ski poles to secure her balance on the snow and wet roadways. She had recently relocated to St Joseph. Referring to her “walking sticks,” she commented on her perception that paths in municipalities everywhere were cleared of snow, just like the streets. “What’s up with that?” was her question. That’s my question too.