Editorial: Langley’s lack of walkability no surprise

This week, there was a story about a new study that found Langley was one of the least walkable areas and most diabetes-prone regions of Metro Vancouver.

The part about walkability wasn’t exactly news to anyone who lives here, but the attempt to precisely calculate the impact of poor walkability on personal health might help move the discussion about the health benefits of walking trails, cycle paths and decent transit from the anecdotal to the scientific.

Researcher Salman Klar of the Fraser Health Authority did some data mining of the My Health My Community project, which surveyed more than 33,000 respondents in the Lower Mainland between 2013 and 2014.

The Klar study, presented at the World Diabetes Congress in Vancouver, compared the Body Mass Index of people from the survey against the Walk Score, a number developed for real estate use.

The higher the walk score, the healthier the community, Klar determined.

People in neighbourhoods with a 90 or better number, so-called “walker’s paradises,” were about a third less likely to be overweight or obese than those living in the region’s more car-dependent areas, with Walk Scores of 50 or lower.

Much to nobody’s surprise, the City of Vancouver scored the best with an average 78 “very walkable,” and pedestrian-friendly Vancouver neighbourhoods like the downtown core (96) and West End (94) rated near-perfect.

The study shows pretty much every community outside downtown Vancouver has poor walkability and obesity numbers, the result of suburban sprawl and a lack of decent public transit that leads to less walking and more driving.

Langley ranked near the bottom with a Walk Score of 39, slightly better than neighbouring Maple Ridge (36) and on par with Abbotsford.

But getting the Walk Score up to Vancouver levels is not a small challenge.

It’s all very well for Dr. Jat Sandhu of the Vancouver Coastal Health to say municipal planners should keep the Klar findings in mind when designing neighbourhoods, but out here, where transit resources are thin on the ground compared to Dr. Sandhu’s neck of the woods, where budgets are tight and taxpayers are balking at paying more, it’s advice that may prove hard to follow.

Even with the obvious health benefits.