America leads the world. That statement is not always true, but many trends that start in the US often spread to other countries. I remember growing up in England years ago; I noticed I could always tell an American by his appearance.
Not just his clothes, but men were usually just bigger; taller, broader shoulders and fuller in the face. In the more than 30 years that I have lived in the US I have seen big and tall go to obese, to morbid obese. This trend is now steadily spreading all over the world.
America’s addiction to food, and more especially junk food; is sold to a naïve public because there are large profits to be made with junk food. Relatively cheap to produce, flavor can be chemically engineered in a way that it tastes so good it becomes addictive. (Try opening a bag of potato chips, and eating just one.)
The tobacco industry at one time was on to a great business model; manufacture and sell something highly addictive that is constantly consumed. It was a good business model until people were made aware that tobacco products were killing people.
The junk food manufacturers today are following the exact same business model as the tobacco companies did, and it is killing people. Selling people food that in most cases they don’t need, but are addicted to it. Sodas, salty or sugary snacks.
Hand in hand with the obesity epidemic is America’s love affair with the automobile. Combine a love of junk food with the love of the automobile (Lack of exercise.) and a person is on an express lane to an early grave.
Look at any car ad on TV and what do you see? The obligatory slow motion shot of a car sliding sideways in a controlled skid, smoke or dust billowing from its tires; or cars driving at break neck speed on deserted streets and highways.
This is not reality; on today’s congested roadways, not only is it impractical, it is downright dangerous. Speed kills; there is less time to react if a driver or someone else makes a mistake.
Stopping distances are greater, and the impact of a crash is more intense and therefore deadly.
Statistics show that a pedestrian hit a 40mph has an 85% chance of dying; that means only a 15% chance of survival. At 30mph the pedestrian hit has a 45% chance of dying; and a pedestrian hit at 20mph has only a 5% chance of dying, in other words 95% of the time the pedestrian will survive.
Plus at 20mph a driver has more chance of stopping, and the pedestrian more chance of jumping out of the way. Isn’t this a strong argument for restricting speed to 20mph in city centers where there are large numbers of pedestrians and bicycles?
It is interesting that as people get bigger, so too do their cars.
In the last decade the average SUV has grown 10 inches longer, 4 inches wider and as a result have packed on another 474 lbs.
Even compact sedans are 2 inches wider, 2 inches longer and weigh 374 lbs. more.
Because of the increased weight the car is given a larger more powerful engine because a drop in performance would not satisfy the consumer’s addiction to speed. (Which is an idea the car manufacturer sold them in the first place.)
This also means these vehicles take up more space on the road, and if you are unfortunate enough to get hit by one of these behemoths, your chance of survival is greatly reduced. Even if you are hit while driving a smaller car.
Just as the tobacco companies in the 1940s and 1950s said, “Smoke these cigarettes, it will make you look cool;” the auto companies today say, “Drive this car, it will go fast and make you look cool.” What they don't say is, like tobacco it will kill you along with other people.
So what is the answer; how can we reverse this trend? We can’t just suddenly take away people’s object of addiction; try to do that and people go crazy, they resist.
If a person is morbidly obese they can now have an operation whereby their stomach is made smaller thus restricting the amount of food the person can shove in it. This is an effective way to lose weight when a person cannot restrict their food intake by simple self control.
Roads too can be put on a diet. The conventional wisdom for many years has been to deal with traffic congestion by making roads wider. This is akin to dealing with obesity by buying a larger pair of pants, and a longer belt.
Wide, multi-lane roads just encourage speed, making it more dangerous for pedestrians to cross and of course for cyclists too.
Especially if the cyclist has to cross multiple lanes to make a left turn, while dealing with cars driving at a greater speed.
These multi-lane highways usually lead into large cities; at some point the road has to narrow and as a result traffic slows or stops completely and the multi-lane highway becomes a large capacity parking lot.
If you pour water from a pitcher into an empty wine bottle, there is only one way to do it; very slowly. Traffic flowing into a city is no different; if you reduce the number of lanes the traffic flows slower; often the overall time of a person’s trip in not increased.
It is a steadier, slower drive, rather than a dangerous high speed race along a multi-lane highway, only to sit with your engine idling in a traffic jam at the end of it.
Multi-lane highways give a false sense of carrying more traffic but actually they don’t. Because of the higher speed, greater distance is needed between each car. The next time you are on such a road, look across at the opposite side and notice how much space is actually taken up by cars. You will notice as much as four or five times the space between each car.
With less lanes and the traffic flowing at a slower speed, cars can safely travel closer together, maximizing the use of space. By putting roads on a diet, space gained can be given over to separating cars, bikes, and pedestrians. Making it safer for people to walk and ride bicycles, encourages more to do just that.
More people walking and riding bikes cuts down congestion making those multi-lane highways unnecessary. It cuts down on obesity and leads to people making healthier choices; weaning them off the junk food. Maybe if people get smaller, their cars may also get smaller, less powerful, and less deadly to operate.
Diets save lives; whether they are food diets or road diets. The good news is that city planners and traffic engineers all over the US are embracing the idea of putting roads on a diet. Even our capitol city, and who would have thought that a few years ago?