Voices of the NPAP

Mark Fenton

 

Mark Fenton
Public Health, Planning, and Transportation Consultant


 

Which of the 8 Sectors are you involved in and why did you choose that particular sector?

Transportation, Urban Planning & Community Design. I believe one of the most subtle but devastating impacts on public health over the past 50 years has been the transformation of our communities from vibrant community centers with viable walking and transit facilities, to struggling urban centers surrounded by suburban sprawl that continues to ooze outward. The result has been a near elimination of routine transportation-based physical activity (walking, cycling, and transit use) among the US population, as well as a host of other adverse impacts, such as diminished air and water quality, accelerated development of open space, global warming, and transportation congestion. The creation of more livable, activity-friendly environments and policies must therefore be one of our very highest priorities for population health improvement.

What's most exciting to you about the U.S. having a National Physical Activity Plan?

This is one of the rare opportunities to truly think on the grandest scale about where the country has to go over the next 20 years and beyond. Our working group had an impressive array of professionals and advocates from quite varied disciplines, from leading trails and bicycle advocacy organizations, to planning and transportation and public safety professionals, to public health researchers and promoters, and many others. Yet there seemed to be clear agreement on the need to address the perfect storm that the nation (and the planet) faces, based on the land use and transportation norms of the past 50 to 100 years: An over-dependence on oil for transportation and the commensurate conflicts and foreign policy challenges it creates; the human impact on accelerating global warming; and a rising obesity epidemic which, based on an increasing worldwide adoption of American lifestyles and transportation norms (for example, increased automobile ownership and vehicle miles traveled) is now even reaching into the developing world!

What will success of the NPAP look like to you in 3 years, 5 years? 10 years?

This plan will not be successful if it is simply about building another national advocacy collaborative, or increasing awareness and launching media campaigns and behavior change programs. At it's core, this plan must be about fundamental shifts in critical policies and the built and social environment of this nation if we are to see population-level increases in physical activity. In particular, this requires fundamental changes in the essential organs of our society, such as schools and healthcare providers, transportation and planning agencies, businesses and advocacy groups.

So, for example, the plan will not be successful if it simply states that the nation must adopt a Complete Streets policy that requires all road projects utilizing federal dollars to take into account pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit riders as well as motor vehicles in planning and design of facilities. Instead, the plan must initiate a process to pull together partners from a wide variety of fields to first advocate for the adoption of Complete Streets policies at Federal and State levels. Then it must guide work on the nitty-gritty details of changing roadway design guidelines and even the standards to which engineers and planners are trained to assure that the most enlightened designs, serving the greatest breadth of physically active users, are implemented on transportation projects across the country. It is only through these deeper, systemic changes that we have any hope at all of helping all Americans--especially those at greatest risk--get more daily physical activity.

 

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