by Kathy E. Sykes
It was a twist of fate that steered me to becoming a member of the board of directors of America Walks this past April. Here’s what happened.
While attending the Active Living Research conference many years ago, I met some activists and researchers who were launching a national organization to make our communities more walkable – America Walks. At that time, I was spearheading the Environmental Protection Agency’s Aging Initiative whose purpose was to reduce exposure from environmental hazards. I also had been working with colleagues from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and scholars in gerontology and public health to develop an awards program to recognize communities that were building healthy communities for active aging.
Improving the walking infrastructure has many environmental as well as public health benefits. For example, reducing trips by car with trips on foot or bike reduces the number of vehicular miles traveled. That step reduces air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Another benefit of introducing better design of sidewalks, crosswalks, and traffic calming strategies is their contribution to a safer environment for pedestrians, thereby saving lives. Promoting physical activity is beneficial for heart health, reducing rates of cancer, diabetes and mental health. For all these reasons, it was easy to support the vision of America Walks to ensure that “America’s communities are safe and attractive places that encourage people of all ages and abilities, ethnicities and incomes to walk for transportation, wellness and fun.”
I was very committed to the work of America Walks and its advocacy to engineer healthy change in communities from its inception. But I believe I became even more committed to the cause ten years ago when I attended a community meeting on walkability in Atlanta sponsored by the Atlanta Regional Commission. While walking on foot to the meeting. I was struck from behind by a car even though I had the light and was inside the crosswalk.
I felt as though I had been struck by a building and thought I had died. The driver slammed on the brakes, which threw me out into the middle of the street. I landed on my right arm. My body went into shock and I could no longer feel my back where I had initially been struck. All I could feel was my arm and it was in excruciating pain. I feared it was broken. A good Samaritan walking by witnessed the crash and immediately called the police, and then an ambulance swept me away to the nearest hospital.
While in the emergency room, I contacted my colleague David, whom I had met at the Active Living Research conference years ago, to tell him the irony of being struck by a car in a crosswalk on my way to a planning meeting for creating a walkable Atlanta. David suggested I call a local walking community leader, Sally Flocks, the president of Pedestrians Educating Drivers about Safety or PEDS. I learned from Sally that a college student had been struck and killed a month ago at the same intersection. Fortunately, I suffered no broken bones or internal injuries. Others are not always as fortunate as I was then.
After retiring from the EPA in 2017, I joined the Board of Directors of America Walks. I have enjoyed the opportunity to continue the work, now volunteer work, that I loved as a federal employee. America Walks holds monthly webinars, awards annual community change grants and selects individuals interested in participating in the America Walks Walking College. To learn more about the America Walks Walking College, please see www.americawalks.org.
Applications for the 2019 America Walks Walking College, “an interactive, online educational program for walkable community advocates,” are due February 28th.
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