by Leah Shahum September 9, 2015 in News

Nation’s Top Doctor Issues Call to Action on Walking

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy

The Vision Zero Network applauds the United States Surgeon General’s Call to Action on Walking, issued today, to address major public health challenges such as heart disease and diabetes, as well as inequitable access to safe walking conditions among America’s diverse communities.

Step It Up! The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Promote Walking and Walkable Communities articulates the health benefits of walking, while also addressing the fact that many communities unacceptably lack safe and convenient places for individuals to walk or wheelchair roll. Today, senior citizens, children, people with disabilities, communities of color and economically disadvantaged communities face disproportionate negative impacts due to safe walking conditions.

“Leaders at every level — from the highest-ranking doctor in our nation to a fast-growing number of mayors across the country — are recognizing the urgent need to make our communities inviting and safe to walk, bike and be active on a daily basis,” said Leah Shahum, Director of the Vision Zero Network, which supports efforts to eliminate traffic deaths among all road users. “Now is the time to move from simply urging people to ‘get active’ to stepping up our civic responsibility to ensure safe, healthy, accessible streets and sidewalks for all of our citizens.”

Data consistently show there are safety and accessibility issues that make communities less walkable. A 2013 study by the U.S. Department of Transportation, for example, found that three out of every 10 Americans reported that no sidewalks existed along any streets in their neighborhood.

“Everyone deserves to have a safe place to walk or wheelchair roll. But in too many of our communities, that is not the reality,” said Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, the 19th U.S. Surgeon General. “We know that an active lifestyle is critical to achieving good overall health. And walking is a simple, effective and affordable way to build physical activity into our lives. That is why we need to step it up as a country ensuring that everyone can choose to walk in their own communities.”

The Surgeon General calls on community planners and local leaders to create more areas for walking and wheelchair rolling and to prioritize the development of safe routes for children to get to and from schools. The call to action suggests that these designs should include sidewalks, curb cuts, crosswalks, bikeways, traffic calming measures, safe crossings for the visually impaired and more green spaces. The Surgeon General further calls on city managers, law enforcement and community and public health leaders to prioritize ensuring safe, inviting walking space for all.

“This is going to have to work at the community level,” Dr. Murthy told an enthusiastic crowd gathered in Washington, D.C. for the release of the Call to Action.

Fewer than half of all U.S. adults get enough physical activity to reduce their risk of chronic disease, and only a quarter of high school students get the recommended amount. Physical inactivity contributes to heart and lung disease, diabetes and cancer, which account for 86% of our nation’s health care costs. Building walking into daily life can reduce disease and save money. Yet, many people cite not being able to walk as often as recommended due to barriers in their community, such as too much fast-moving car traffic, unwelcoming streets, lacking sidewalks or crosswalks and unreasonable distances between destinations.

“The main barriers preventing people from walking more can and must be addressed by street re-design, enforcement efforts and smart policies that place the priorities of safety and equitable access above the desire for speed,” Shahum said. “This Call to Action by the Surgeon General propels the work of so many local leaders committing to Vision Zero and working to make safety a top priority block by block.”

To read the Surgeon General’s Call to Action and learn how to promote walking and walkable communities, visit

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