03 December 2010

Biker Backlash and Obesity

The makers of a device used in obesity surgery have asked the FDA for permission to expand its range, allowing it to be used in more than a fifth of adults rather than only the fattest few.

Meanwhile, a few cranky drivers are putting pressure on the Bloomberg administration over the expansion of bike lanes in New York City.

What's the connection?

Bike lanes increase safety not only for cyclists, but also for pedestrians, thousands of whom get killed nationwide every year when struck by motor vehicles.

Bike lanes, like walking, encourage exercise.

Bike lanes are part of Bloomberg's plan to increase access to public transit -- and use of public transit, too, encourages walking a few blocks to train stations or bus stops at either end, rather than walking just a few feet to one's driveway.

Studies have shown a connection between driving and obesity: kids in urban neighborhoods with the most traffic end up the heaviest, and the ways in which suburbs are organized systematically limits opportunities to walk or bike -- to work, to school, to leisure activities.

What's not needed is for the makers of devices used in bariatric surgery to make more money (at great risk of side effects to large segments of the population) by cutting more people open to put a belt around their stomachs.

What's needed is a radical restructuring of the ways in which cities and towns are organized, with residences located near commercial areas and new zoning plans that scrap strict divisions between the two in favor of (carefully thought through) allowances for mixed construction, so that people can choose to live where they can walk or ride a bike to work.

That needs to go hand in hand with the construction of safe sidewalks, and the use of traffic signals at intersections that allow safe crossing for pedestrians, rather than making pedestrians an afterthought.

Oh, and the provision of bike lanes, so that cyclists don't have to choose between riding in traffic or riding on the sidewalk.