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Are Sidewalks for Pedestrians?

June 13, 2017
By Jim Sallis


This post first appeared on the America Walks blog: http://americawalks.org/are-sidewalks-for-pedestrians/.

At America Walks, we are committed to people-first design. Unfortunately, in practice in many communities across the US, individuals are not prioritized on our streets and sidewalks.  Dr. Jim Sallis explores the topic in this guest blog post on the growing trend of motorized rideables on our sidewalks, an added element that has the potential to knock down the pedestrian yet another peg on the hierarchy of users. Dr. Sallis reminds us all that we need to be vigilant to this trend and others that create spaces where people who walk feel uncomfortable or threatened. Take action—add your voice to the growing walking movement, make such topics issues for local government to address, and educate yourself as to the rights you have (or should have) as a pedestrian.


The answer to the question should be an obvious “yes”, and among advocates for walking the answer is “YES”. But in reality the answer is becoming “no” more and more often. Technology is disrupting businesses of many kinds, replacing jobs that have benefits with gigs, making it cheaper to be driven around town, and delivering everything so you can stay home all the time playing computer games. Now technology is taking aim at disrupting sidewalks. I guess we should not be surprised.

I was alarmed 10 years ago when Segways promised to revolutionize transportation. They were able to change laws in many cities to make them legal occupants of sidewalks. However, they never really took off due to cost, and maybe people could not figure out where or how to park them. But you can count on technology to “progress”, so just in the past couple of years I have noticed a profusion of new personal transport devices showing up on sidewalks. First there were “hoverboards”, that were very small, brightly colored, and popular with children. Unfortunately they developed a habit of catching on fire. But there are many more choices now.

There is a new category of products called electric rideables. I have seen electric skateboards, numerous versions of two-wheeled hoverboards, single self-balancing wheels that whiz you along, three-wheeled devices, electric scooters you stand on, electric scooters you sit on, and apparently dozens of segway-type gizmos. There are websites devoted to this rapidly expanding category and lots of reviews. Google it. This has to be a great business opportunity because everybody hates to walk, don’t they?

For those few of us who still enjoy actual low-tech walking, it seems like we need a place to do it. That place is most often the sidewalk. And that is where I have been seeing these “rideables”. This brings up many questions. Is it legal for the rideables to be on the sidewalk even though they typically move faster than pedestrians? Are riders liable if they injure a pedestrian? How do pedestrians like sharing the sidewalk with rideables? Will pedestrians be driven off the sidewalk by rideables? That couldn’t happen, could it?

One of my favorite magazine articles of the last few years was in the Smithsonian in 2014.  It described how car companies invented the crime of jaywalking in the early 20th century to keep pedestrians out of the street so cars could take over. The car companies wrote the laws and lobbied city councils to pass them, with the noble intent of protecting pedestrians. The less-noble real intent was to stop the bad publicity created by cars killing and maiming people every day. To add insult to injury they chose the name “jay” which meant hillbilly or bumpkin. The implication was that smart and sophisticated people drove, and ignorant people walked.

So, as cars took over the road, pedestrians were driven out of the street. Could we see rideables take over the sidewalk, making pedestrians obsolete? There’s nowhere else for pedestrians to go. Filling the sidewalks with rideables would be great for business, so maybe we have to give up. We don’t want to threaten the jobs of rideable-makers do we? You can’t stand (or walk) in the way of progress.

Is the motorization of sidewalks on the agenda of walking advocates? It should be. Walking on the sidewalk is in the process of being disrupted by new technology. These small businesses are planning their growth. It looks like a clash of technology and profit versus health and quality of life. Taking a walk is usually the high point of my day. Taking a walk is the healthiest thing most people do in a day. What will be the effect on pedestrians of sidewalks filling with rideables? Whose interests will determine whether rideables become legally protected? As advocates for walking it is up to us to start asking these questions.


Life Is Change: Professional and Personal Updates

May 2017.
I want to explain why and how I am semi-retiring. Though my work has been meaningful and gratifying over many years, I am ready to slow down my activities. 2016 was a momentous year for me. In my Presidential Lecture to Society of Behavioral Medicine in March 2017 I explained how Charles Dickens’s book “Tale of Two Cities” seemed to describe my 2016. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Most of the events were excellent, such as highly-visible publications from our IPEN collaborations, leading three papers in the Lancet, being elected to the National Academy of Medicine, and being President of SBM, which included holding the Annual Meeting in San Diego. However, the biggest event of the year for me was traumatic. My wife and life partner of 39 years, Shemi, passed away on August 16, 2016. I appreciate the many heartfelt notes I received from friends and colleagues around the world. The remembrances of Shemi were touching and helped me focus on the many good times. Besides being a gentle person, great cook, and hostess, Shemi had a fertile creative life that resulted in dozens of artworks, plus stories and poems. I encourage you to visit the website I built for Shemi so you can enjoy scenes from her life and creations of her mind. http://www.shemiamarsisallis.com
After Shemi’s death I decided to semi-retire so I could focus my energies on projects of highest priority and find more time for things I enjoy other than work. My retirement from UCSD was official at the end of January 2017, but I will continue to work on current grants. I am committed to ensuring the results of IPEN Adolescent and other projects are published and disseminated. Mike Pratt’s arrival as a Professor in the UCSD Department of Family Medicine and Public Health provides an opportunity for extension of our active living work, because Mike has been collaborating on IPEN and Active Living Research for many years. Mike has already taken the lead on new grant proposals, working closely with our experienced staff. My main role will be to support, not lead, new projects.
My official retirement gives me freedom to pursue other opportunities. As of February 2017 I became a Professorial Fellow at the Australian Catholic University (ACU) in Melbourne. I am attached to the Institute for Health and Ageing, and my main goal is to support the growth of excellent research within this new Institute. Although I will not be moving to Australia full-time I will visit several times each year. The connection with ACU builds on strengths, because my long-time IPEN colleagues Ester Cerin and Takemi Sugiyama are there, among others. Being together with Ester will produce important benefits for IPEN and other built environment studies. We are hiring a Research Fellow with advanced skills in statistics to work closely with Ester in analyzing IPEN data. ACU is supporting core staff of the IPEN Coordinating Center who are based at UCSD so we can continue our productivity. Thus, ACU is becoming a much more important center of action for IPEN.
Melbourne is a very comfortable place for me, having spent several months of my sabbatical there in 1995 and making several visits since then. Melbourne is the capitol of physical activity research in Australia, with longtime friends and colleagues including Neville Owen at Baker IDI and Swinburne University; Jo Salmon, Anna Timperio, Jenny Veitch and others at Deakin University; Billie Giles-Corti at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology; Brian Oldenburg at University of Melbourne; and David
Dunstan, Gavin Turrell, and Andrea Nathan also at ACU. I look forward to spending more time with these and other colleagues in Melbourne while enjoying the cultural amenities of the city.
I am looking forward to this change in focus and pace of professional activity. In speaking at the SBM Leadership Institute in March I emphasized the value of seeking out change and driving change, not just reacting to it. My new situation is a chance to act on my own advice. I am ready to start new adventures, some of them including the combination of dance and music, which can unite my professional and personal interests. I plan to stay active in research, writing, advocacy, and mentoring. I want to support others in taking the lead in fulfilling my career’s mission of using evidence to move toward a more physically active world. Of course, I am committed to enjoying movement every day, and I envision that semi-retirement will allow me to more fully appreciate the wonder of life in our magnificent but fragile world.

March for Science: A Good Walk for an Important Purpose

James Sallis, PhD

April 22, 2017

What does it take to get scientists to leave the comfort of their labs and climb down from their ivory towers? Apparently it takes denial of evidence, belittling of science, disrespect and intimidation of government scientists, and dramatic budget cuts for every research program in the federal government to prod scientists to hit the streets and raise their voices. To put it mildly, street protests are not a comfort zone for most researchers. Why did thousands of scientists, science educators, engineers, entrepreneurs, and fans of the scientific enterprise March for Science on Saturday March 22, 2017 in hundreds of cities around the world? Because we understand the essential role that science plays in every aspect of our lives: protecting the health of the planet, improving the health of people, making our education system more effective, creating new technologies that will hopefully be designed to enhance quality of life for people, and learning more about how our vast and wonderful world works.


With colleagues and students of public health and medicine at the San Diego March. We look happy, but we are also upset, energized, and determined.

My sign refers to our SPARK physical education and physical activity programs that began with NIH-funded grants. The evidence-based programs have trained thousands of teachers, improved the lives of millions of young people, and created dozens of jobs over 25 years.


Like many others I have been appalled by the recent verbal and fiscal attacks on evidence of all kinds, science in general, and climate science most particularly. There is a celebration of ignorance and propaganda over systematic generation of evidence. Efforts of the Administration seem designed to overturn the Enlightenment so we can go back to the Dark Ages when dogma and superstition ruled. As scientists we have dedicated our careers to advancing humanity through research. Many of us do applied science, and our goal is for our evidence-based solutions to the many problems facing our country and world to be applied in the real world.

But let’s not be naive and think that everyone loves science. Current attacks on science and government regulation are merely spikes in a long-term trend. Getting serious about reducing carbon emissions is bad news for the fossil fuel industries. EPA regulations are not welcomed by chemical industries. FDA regulations are an annoyance to the pharmaceutical industry. Prevention efforts led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are fought by food and beverage industries, as well as tobacco, alcohol, and gun industries. Evidence from independent, government-sponsored research often threatens the bottom line and images of these industries, so they fight science through lobbying and campaign donations. These are all powerful industries that see themselves as benefiting from less research, at least less of certain types of research.

To counter this opposition, who is fighting for research and evidence-based policy making? Scientific organizations speak up for research, but their resources are tiny compared to the industries working so persistently and effectively out of the public eye. What can be done to increase support for science and evidence? That was the theme of my Presidential Lecture at the Society of Behavioral Medicine Annual Meeting in March 2017. “Research translation” is about getting evidence used. The movement of evidence from scientific journals to real-world application does not happen automatically or by magic. It requires action, and some of that action needs to come from researchers ourselves. The people and organizations who can use the evidence in education, business, practice, and policy need to know about the evidence. So, an important role of scientists is to take steps to communicate research results to potential “end-users.” Many researchers are hesitant to take that step, either because they don’t believe it is their role, or they don’t know how to go about it.

But we are now in a situation where we need to do more than just communicate our results. We scientists are on the front lines of defending our nation’s commitment to science itself. More than 150 years after Abraham Lincoln started the National Academy of Sciences to “advise the nation,” it is hard to believe that American science is being attacked. One of the main functions of the March for Science was to educate the public about the critical role of science in improving lives. Common themes were climate and health. The economic impact of research was not emphasized so much but may be equally important.

I joined many thousands of scientists and science supporters for the March in San Diego. It was a typically beautiful day, and the atmosphere was festive. Before the March we had speakers including the originator of the Keeling Curve of carbon concentrations in the atmosphere, from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UCSD. We also heard from very young scientists who were excited about the important problems they are investigating. It was inspiring to meet physicists, teachers, biotech workers, parents, and children who came up with clever signs and spent their Saturday on the March. Here are just a few photos.




An inspiring event does not create change, but it is a great first step. Being energized by the March for Science could galvanize marchers to become communicators, activists, advocates, and donors to continue the work of supporting science. During talks at the end of the San Diego march, speakers referred to the great turnout for the First March for Science. I hope there is not a need for a second one. But if a second one is needed, I will be there.

Impressions of SBM 2017 in San Diego

James F. Sallis, Ph.D.

SBM President, 2016-2017

April 11, 2017

It seemed carefully planned to have the Society of Behavioral Medicine Annual Meeting in San Diego during my Presidential year. However, it was not planned or pre-ordained at all. Nevertheless it was a great experience to “host” the Annual Meeting in my hometown of 34 years. If you want an unbiased review of the meeting, then you will have to look elsewhere because I thought it was wonderful and uplifting.

My main roles in planning the meeting were to select the Program Chair and invite the Keynote Speakers and two of the Master Lecturers. I had a great experience working with Program Chair David Marquez at University of Illinois, Chicago. I got to know David when he was Chair of the Physical Activity SIG (Special Interest Group). In addition to creating a great scientific conference, we agreed on the goal of making SBM a more active meeting, which was implemented by having standing sections in the session rooms and encouraging standing ovations, or active applause. There were always people standing in the sessions I attended, but the active applause was mainly adopted in the physical activity sessions. In my experience people really enjoy standing up after talks, because it is invigorating. However, I’m going to recommend that for 2018 we ask all session chairs to specifically encourage attendees to give active applause at each session. It is an interesting case study in changing behavior and culture.

Sallis and Marquez

Jim Sallis and David Marquez, 2017 Program Chair

I was gratified that all of my top choices for Keynote Speakers agreed, and I was thrilled with the effects of their talks on the attendees. Robert Ross, CEO of The California Endowment, electrified and inspired the 2000 people at the opening plenary with his story of how he dedicated his career to improving health equity. We were all fascinated by what the Endowment has learned through their deep engagement with 14 disadvantaged communities around California. They are breaking new ground in public health through their 10-year commitment to creating healthy and equitable communities. Ana Diez-Roux, Dean of Public Health at Drexel University in Philadelphia, showed how she is using advanced epidemiologic methods to work toward health equity. She was a great example of a distinguished scientist being very involved in communicating her research so it makes a difference in people’s lives. Harold Goldstein, founder of Public Health Advocates in Sacramento, was a different kind of speaker for SBM. His stories of using evidence to change state policy were inspiring because of all the successes he could point to, particularly with food and beverage policies. He is a great example of a “knowledge broker” who knows how to take evidence and use it effectively in the policy making process. Tracy Neal-Walden works in the Office of the Surgeon General for the US Air Force. I asked her to inform SBM attendees about the great work being done to improve the health of military and veterans communities, including their families. She discussed how health professionals are collaborating across the services, using evidence-based strategies, evaluating outcomes, and serving millions of people. She and her colleagues are having great impact, and she said there were opportunities to collaborate on both research and practice.

Robert Ross

Robert Ross, CEO of The California Endowment

I was able to select two Master Lecturers for the 2017 Annual Meeting. Frank Penedo from Northwestern University spoke on precision cancer care delivery. His talk was closely tied to genomics research, which has been addressed throughout the year by SBM’s Genomics Working Group. Marjorie Kagawa-Singer from UCLA presented on culture and health, mainly using examples from her work with Asian Americans. Her talk was a great opportunity to learn about advances being made with one of the least-studied and most diverse racial-ethnic-cultural groupings. I again express my thanks to all the Keynotes and Master Lecturers who helped make the conference great.

There were way too many Annual Meeting highlights to list, but I want to comment on just a few. I was pleased to be part of the Team Science symposium organized by Kara Hall and Amanda Vogel of NCI. Bill Riley of OBSSR led an informative panel on the OBSSR Strategic Plan, and I was honored to contribute to the session. Please get familiar with, and support, OBSSR’s Strategic Plan. It was notable that several sessions dealt with the Precision Medicine Initiative, aka the “All of Us” study. There are many opportunities for behavioral researchers to get involved in this enormous research project. I encourage SBM members to be assertive in contacting site investigators and identifying ways behavioral scientists can contribute to this study. Though I was not able to attend, I want to express my appreciation to Colleen McBride for leading the Genomics Presidential Working Group and the sessions they held during the conference.

It was a thrill for me to symbolically pass the gavel to Gary Bennett, who became the new SBM President. It was a thrill, not because I am tired of being President, but because I know Gary will be a  visionary and effective leader for the Society. At the Business Meeting on Saturday morning Gary laid out his vision to “Extend the Reach” of SBM. That made it clear he is continuing the efforts of all recent presidents to increase the impact of our research. I encourage all members to get involved in communicating your (and “our” collective) research to practitioners, knowledge brokers, and policy makers who can put it into practice.

There is no doubt the coming years will be challenging for science in general and behavioral scientists in particular. SBM 2017 started ominously with news the administration proposed an immediate $1.2 Billion cut in NIH’s budget this year! That is another unprecedented proposal on top of the requested 20% reduction to NIH for 2018. This is part of a broad “war on science” that goes beyond cuts in virtually all science-based federal agencies to attacks on evidence and facts. Thus, I invite you to review the slides of my President’s Lecture that are posted on my website (http://sallis.ucsd.edu/Documents/Sallis%20SBM%20Pres%20Address%2003302017%20revised.pdf) and get personally involved in advocating for protecting science in the US and speaking up for using evidence to guide policies. The April 22, 2017 March for Science is an opportunity to take action. I recommend you read and act on SBM President-Elect Sherry Pagoto’s article in Chronicle of Higher Education. http://www.chronicle.com/article/March-for-Science-Can-Inform/239574/. She advises us how we can use this march to create a positive impression of science and scientists on the American public.

Here is a photo of the SBM leadership team for the 2017-2018 year, with the past, current, and future SBM presidents, along with Mary Dean, our Executive Director. Each of us understands the stakes are higher than ever, and we are energized to advocate for SBM, defend science, and stand up for evidence. You will be hearing from us throughout the year, and I’m sure we will be making requests of the members. It will be a busy year.

Sallis group

Jim Sallis, Gary Bennett, Sherry Pagoto, Mary Dean. At SBM 2017.

This leadership group will be moving SBM into the future as we navigate treacherous waters.