The Low-Car Diet

Rapid Transit meeting at the East Park Community Center yesterday..there were over 100 of us split into 3 groups. More of us than not were standing in the back while a developer presented.


Here I am again, trying to squeeze in a lunchtime post because I know if I don’t post now, I won’t…and I’ve got something exciting to talk about.


I went to a community meeting yesterday to talk about the East-West Connector, a rapid public transit planned to open in 2015.  The planning team and Transit Now Nashville, my favorite transit advocacy group in the world, are reaching out to the people who will be most affected by this system in their neighborhoods. I was a little concerned because I’d read an article in the Tennessean about the meeting in West Nashville hadn’t gone well.


See that lady in the pearls?



She’s in a video on the Tennessean saying, “We’ll have people coming off of this bus, like they do at Shaker Heights and ruin the neighborhood because they all get bussed in, and that whole part of Shaker Heights is like, ‘don’t go there,’ because here they all come, they’re hanging around the bus stations and all that stuff.”


Here it is.


As with many topics, I could go on and on about the many facets of this argument, from cultural isolation to the wealth gap to the social contract, particularly with city-dwellers. But this blog has a theme (I think) and that theme is health. So thankfully, I’m kept from going on a complete tangent.


I don’t have a wide enough knowledge of cars and urban development to understand how we got to the place we’re at now. The average American gets up in the morning from their beds, has breakfast at their kitchen table, checks email and news at their desk, drives to work, works at their desk all day, drives home, watches tv, gets into bed, then repeats the whole process they next day. All of those activities are done sitting.


There are a number of factors to the links between sitting too long (6+ hours a day) and death, including cancer, but heart disease is the most significant one. (read about it here) Researches have also found that light rail commuters in Charlotte, NC were about 6.45 pounds lighter than those who drove alone. (Read that, too – here)


We live in the American South, the mecca for barbeque, fried foods, urban sprawl, poverty, and obesity. When I bring out my health advocate side around here, people sometimes look at me like I’m from another planet. It’s not necessarily their fault – many people here were never taught that eating well and exercising can make them feel good, lower their personal and state healthcare bills, and increase their chances at living at a longer life.


Ok, so that mac and cheese looks pretty good. You still don’t want to sit around with it in your belly all day.


Taking transit to work and back mean that the 60-minute sitting drive to work in stop-and-go traffic becomes a 30-minute opportunity to stand, read, check email (which frees up your time in the morning to exercise) and take your bike along for the commute to and from the stop. It’s a small step, but just the visual of having it in the busiest parts of the city will lend to the culture change that needs to happen in Nashville, moving from a car-centered city to a flexible and healthy city.


A concept illustration of one of the stations


At a certain point, people (especially those who own homes, make campaign contributions, and are adapted at internet communications – ahem, west Nashville) need to face reality: purely from a health perspective, what we’re doing isn’t working. Tennessee is the fourth most obese state in the nation. Fourth! Any and everything we can do to lower this ranking should be done. And here are a team of researchers, urban developers, and advocates prepared to make it happen…and what to the people in West Nashville do? Squawk out whatever comes into their closed minds, such as “I’m not interested in subsidizing this.”


Thankfully, East Nashvillians can be counted on to be the thoughtful, empathetic, creative, and long-term thinking crowd they’re always made out to be. Even just going into the meeting, there were over 100 of us. I sat down in a chair next to a man and he looked me and said, “You know, I think I’ll stand. I’ve been sitting all day.”

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