Let’s talk about the weather. In designing physical activity interventions -- or even personal plans -- outdoor conditions are more than just small talk. Northern states in many months must consider snow pile on sidewalks, dangerously low temperatures, and impossibility of bicycling. Some larger places like Minneapolis have interconnected covered walking systems that allow freedom of movement without concern for the adverse weather conditions in downtown areas. But much of the country must contend with wintry conditions when considering outdoor physical activity.
In the South, our concerns are different. Here in metro Atlanta, it snows every couple of years. Our method of dealing with snow is wait for it to melt. But in the summer -- oh, the summer -- the concern is the heat combined with humidity. Last summer I completed 366 days in a row of walking. The final few weeks, leading up to the end of July, were among the hardest. Making a plan to get out before 8 a.m. was essential. And if I visit the beach in Florida, I want to be already walking on the beach as the sun rises or the direct heat can be unbearable. (Incidentally, it doesn’t surprise me that Florida features 8 of the top 10 most dangerous by design communities. The state is full of cities with long flat roads and few crossings. And what pedestrian in mid-summer humidity wants to walk half a mile to the next intersection?)
I’ve focused here on the weather extremes in summers and winters. I’ll point out briefly that, wherever you live, if you get spring and fall weather, those are boons to your physical activity plans. Imagine the group bike ride in the fall, or the sidewalk renovations at the beginning of spring.
So, what to do about extreme weather? A few thoughts on weather as part of the national physical activity interventions spotlight:
- Be cognizant that the weather conditions you write of might only apply to certain areas of the country. Large numbers of states don’t really deal with snow.
- Conversely, be aware that the heat and humidity in the Southeast and Southwest might warrant earlier programmatic and personal start times. (And frankly, I’ve experienced some bad humidity in Massachusetts!)
- When planning temporary streetscape improvements as demonstrations, tailor them to the anticipated conditions. Snowbanks can be used for traffic calming. A street parklet outside a coffee shop on a Southern summer morning might be more popular than an evening parklet facing western sun.
- Providing giveaways for people participating in your ‘lighter, quicker, cheaper’ demonstration? Consider hats and sunscreen.
- Planners should consider where people will actually cross the street under too-hot or too-cold conditions, not just where intersections are.
Finally, continue encouraging people, whether you’re talking with clients, friends and family, or coalitions: We can work with these outdoor conditions. All it takes is a bit of planning.