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Personal Health: Giving City Streets Built-In Safety Features

When it comes to moving people around in healthy ways, New York City already has a leg up on most cities and towns around the country.

The city has sidewalks in all five boroughs; food stores and other shops are within walking distance of where most people live. It is served nearly everywhere by extensive, inexpensive and largely dependable public transportation. City children have long been able to walk, skate or scoot to school, though these days fewer attend schools in the neighborhood.

Because so many New Yorkers use their feet to get them from place to place, they weigh on average six or seven pounds less than those who live in suburban America, said Dr. Richard J. Jackson, professor of environmental health sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles, and moderator of a public television series called “Designing Healthy Communities.”

Despite a rising tide of pedestrians and cyclists, the number of traffic-related deaths on city streets fell last year to the lowest level in a century, declining 40 percent since 2001. Although cyclist deaths did rise in 2011 for the second year in a row, the per capita death rate for cyclists has dropped.

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