Go Instead Where There Is No Path?

Nov 26, 2010
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In the news today I read a story about how a man was ticketed for riding on a main road in his wheelchair while going to the store (see the story here). The police and the man seem to disagree about the details of the story, and I do not know enough to make a judgment call about who is right, but what I found most interesting is a short, passing statement at the end of the article that said:

“Holmes admitted he uses the roadway to travel because there are no sidewalks in that area, just tiny dirt pathways made by people walking.”

While I do not know the area, I feel fairly confident that this man is giving an accurate report. And since dirt pathways are simply not suitable for travel for individuals who use a wheelchair, how else was he supposed to get to the store other than riding on the road. This is not only a problem for wheelchair-users. Imagine trying to travel on a dirt path with a walker, on rollerblades, with a stroller, or with balance difficulties, for example. And, unfortunately, simply having sidewalks, if they are not maintained, doesn’t fix the problem. Cracked sidewalks, lack of curb cuts, objects obstructing the path, piles of snow, etc are just as problematic.

So, while active transportation and leisurely outdoor activity are a great way to get the necessary levels of physical activity to achieve health benefits, so many people do not have this opportunity because the environment around them is not conducive to these activities. This story is just such a perfect illustration of how that plays out. I’m sure that many individuals who live around him don’t even think twice anymore and hop in the car to travel to a store that is easily within walking distance…losing that opportunity for a little extra activity. And when this man did think twice and got a little creative, he was punished. Again, my point here is not whether or not this man should have received a ticket….my point is, however, that we need to fix this. We need to make sure that the environment invites people to be physically active. And what about those individuals who do not have a car? How are they supposed to get to the store when the path to get there is impassable? Having adequate and accessible pathways then becomes about much more than just getting in physical activity, it becomes about being able to leave the house at all for necessities and socialization and all of those other things so many of us take for granted.

This is no small problem. Fortunately, it is a problem that is receiving attention in both research and policy. In fact, as I was just searching for an image I came across a website that is beginning to address this problem. However, there is obviously much work that remains to be done.

Author: Carolyn