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Complete Streets will drive safety and health

As a practicing cardiologist, I witness firsthand in the patients I treat how a sedentary lifestyle, coupled with an unhealthy diet, can accelerate Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The consequences of these illnesses are often extreme – a lifetime on prescription medicine, medically necessary surgeries and even premature death.

That’s why I support an enhanced Complete Streets ordinance. When the Albuquerque City Council votes on this measure Aug. 5, it has the chance to not only make our streets and roads safer, it can also make a significant impact on our public health policy issues.

Here’s how. Studies have shown that people are more likely to walk or bike to work, school, church or shopping within a mile of their homes so long as they feel safe doing so. However, 73% of people say they don’t walk, bike or roll to nearby destinations because roadways don’t accommodate such travel. As a result, they end up driving everywhere.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Once fully implemented, the Complete Streets Ordinance will offer our community safe options to walk or ride a bike to the places people need to go. Greater mobility will improve our community’s overall well-being by helping people achieve a healthy weight, thus decreasing incidents of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. And I’m not the only one who feels this way; even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends adopting Complete Streets policies as a strategy to promote physical activity.

Unfortunately, not all roads and not all communities in Albuquerque are created equal.

In 2017, 31 of Albuquerque’s 36 fatalities occurred on roadways directly bordering high-poverty areas as identified in the Mid-Region Council of Governments Equity Index.

Research shows that pedestrian fatalities nationally are about 2.5 times more likely to happen in areas where the median household annual incomes are $3,000 to $36,000 as opposed to areas where incomes range from $79,000 to $250,000.

In 2018, according to the Albuquerque Police Department, drivers killed 35 people who were walking on our roads. That’s a 59% increase in pedestrian fatalities from 2017 when 22 pedestrians were killed in Albuquerque.

From 2011 to 2015, 365 people lost their lives on Albuquerque roads in various fatal crashes. Of those, 30% were people walking and biking.

In the recently published report, 2019 Dangerous by Design, Smart Growth America ranked Albuquerque as the 17th most dangerous metro area for people to walk in the United States.

This data supports the importance of Albuquerque’s city administrators taking a holistic approach to Complete Streets policy. Street safety and fatality rates are intimately connected to income levels, aging infrastructure and traffic count. The safety of people living in communities with these issues must be prioritized over new or reconstruction projects.

By prioritizing communities with lower incomes, we automatically prioritize safety as well. That’s why the American Heart Association and its Board of Directors in Albuquerque strongly believe that if we improve safety for our most vulnerable communities via an amended Complete Streets ordinance, we will ultimately improve safety for all communities.

An added benefit is that these safety improvements will also contribute to and promote healthy lifestyle choices.

We strongly urge the City Council to approve this ordinance because it affects all Albuquerque communities – be they in the Heights or in the Valley. No one should have to choose between safety and health. With this ordinance, we can achieve both and ultimately save lives.

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