September 30, 2005

Walking is good

A project targets areas in Chula Vista with high number of pedestrian accidents.

By Pablo Jaime Sainz

When Tina Zenzola asked the English as a Second Language class students how many of them walked to get to most of their destinations, more than half of the 30 students raised their hands.

Zenzola, a consultant with WalkSanDiego, a regional coalition promoting walkable communities, was delivering a workshop to the students, the majority of whom were Latina mothers, at Rice Elementary School in Chula Vista.

The school was chosen as a site for the workshop because, according to City of Chula Vista traffic engineers, the area near Rice has one of the highest automobile/pedestrian crashes rates in the South Bay, Zenzola said. Another area with a similar situation is the Otay /Montgomery schools area.

So, when she asked, “Do you have a problem with traffic here?” a loud “Yes!” came as a response from the students.

Zenzola and Tanya Rovira-Osterwalder, a project coordinator with the Healthy Eating, Active Communities (HEAC) program, were recruiting parents that would like to take part in a project that will try to make the Rice and the Otay/Montgomery schools area more walkable communities.

“The purpose of the meetings with parents of Rice Elementary and Otay and Montgomery Elementary schools was to get feedback from parents as to the traffic situation in these two areas as well as to recruit parents for this project,” Rovira said.

The project will include a series of workshops, walk audits, and discussions, she said. The outcome will be a Walkability Improvement Report that will be presented to the Chula Vista City Council.

“For this project to succeed and to bring about improvements in the neighborhood environment, it is critical that residents participate in the process and take ownership of the solutions,” Zenzola said.

Although modern society heavily depends on cars for transportation, Rovira said that walking is the healthiest choice.

“Walking was the most common form of transportation in the past. And as a rule, less walk means more health problems,” she said.

Rovira added that there are two factors that are contributing to child obesity, especially among Latinos: Poor nutrition and lack of physical activity.

“Our children are eating chips and junk food at school, then they go home and they’re not going outside to play because our streets are not safe. Instead, our children stay inside playing with their computers and video games,” she said.

Zenzola said that a person needs at least a 30-minute walk, five days a week, to live healthier.

“One of the scary things is that for the first time ever, our children are not expected to live as long as us,” she said.

Zenzola said that one of the reasons why people are walking less is that our streets are less pedestrian-friendly than ever before.

Students at the workshop said that in the Rice Elementary area, L Street is a major problem for walking because cars sped all the time and there were some blind drives, too.

Many of the mothers at the workshop added that its difficult –and dangerous— to walk their children to school because of speeding drivers.

“If communities are designed to walk, people walk. It actually works,” Zenzola said.

Zenzola added that walking builds a sense of community through interaction with neighbors.

For more information about this program, contact Tina Zenzola of WalkSanDiego at (619) 281-1656, or Tanya Rovira-Osterwaler of HEAC, at (619) 691-8801.

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