• Speed kills, let’s fix it
    July 25,2013
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    Speed does indeed kill. Both the flashing traffic signs proclaim it, and the Rutland Herald’s headlines report it. Rutland City residents rightly fear walking and biking Rutland’s streets. The results of this fear include more dependence on car use, rising obesity due to inactivity and a lifestyle paradox. Rutland seems to promote recreation for visitors at the expense of safety of its citizens.

    First, speed does kill and maim. While there is only a 5 percent chance of death when a pedestrian is hit by a car going 20 mph, it is 45 percent at 30 mph and 85 percent at 40 mph. Why is the speed limit on our residential streets 30 mph? Burlington and Woodstock have their citywide limits at 25 mph. There are several 30 mph signs with a yellow sign underneath cautioning “SLOW CHILDREN.” What about the safety of children living in areas without those cautionary warnings? Survivors often suffer permanent injuries — post-traumatic brain changes, paralysis, amputation. Many are never the same again.

    An active lifestyle is associated with better health, including decreased rates (27 to 60 percent) of heart disease, stroke, elevated blood pressure, breast and colon cancer, dementia and depression. Street safety is and was a major barrier to my efforts as a physician encouraging weight loss and a more active lifestyle. Patients mentioned sidewalk irregularities and crosswalk issues. Mothers often do not allow their children to walk or ride to Rutland High School if they have to cross Routes 4 or 7. While there are 238 numbered spaces for student parking at RHS, there are less than 40 for bikes.

    How does activity stack up when compared to traditional medical treatments? A German cardiologist treated half of his patients with a single blockage in one of their coronary or heart arteries with a stent to re-open the vessel. To the other half, he gave these patients a bicycle and asked them to bike to work and around their city. One year later, 70 percent of the stent patients are better, but 90 percent of the biking patients are improved. Understandable as only activity helps to maintain blood vessel health, and there are more than 70 miles of blood vessels in our bodies. Oh, the costs of a stent plus maintenance drugs and care for one year were over $38,000 at Dartmouth several years ago. A new bicycle can be had for $200-$500.

    The results, then, are both immediate and delayed. The immediate get the attention, but the delayed turn up later in our health care costs. Rutland City for years has had the state’s highest rate of heart disease. The Centers for Disease Control recommends 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise. They are talking about walking, walking with friends, to church, school, to the store. We should not have to drive to a park to walk safely. It should, in fact, be easier to get around by walking then by driving.

    What’s needed? Rutland City should make the safety of its citizens a clear priority by:

    1. Adopting a 25 mph citywide speed limit.

    2. Enforcing this speed limit.

    3. Re-stenciling the crosswalks in early spring.

    4. Work with the VTrans for better solutions on Routes 4 and 7.

    5. Provide more and better crosswalks on Routes 4 and 7, e.g., its 0.8 miles between Madison and Allen streets.

    6. Fix the Deer Street / Woodstock Avenue crosswalk — before others are maimed.

    7. Educate city drivers by stenciling “Sharrows” along the city’s posted bike routes.

    8. Update these bike routes by connecting them to both Georgetti Park and the new Creek Path.

    9. Apply other Complete Streets’ concepts to our streets, making them accessible to all ages.

    10. Increase the number of handicap parking spaces downtown.

    Let’s connect the dots then. The infrastructure issues listed above combined with a justified fear of harm all contribute to an inactive lifestyle and thereby to our rising health care costs. Let’s ask Rutland City to make our health and safety a top priority.

    Dr. Ted Shattuck is a physician with a practice in Rutland.
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