Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Public Transit Good for Your Health

considering how obese Huntsville is, seems like a no brainer
Yet more proof that public transportation has very real and significant positive impacts on the health of a population. A study conducted in Charlotte, NC by the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University and the RAND Corporation has “found that construction of a light-rail system (LRT) resulted in increased physical activity (walking) and subsequent weight loss by people served by the LRT.”
So you’re telling me that the availability of a reliable and convenient alternative to driving encourages people to become less dependent on their cars, and, subsequently to walk more? And that this is good for our health? Surely this is something that we knew already — yet, for some reason, public policies on transportation rarely account for these benefits and the potential long-term cost-savings. Indeed, lead investigator on the study, John M. MacDonald of the University of Pennsylvania, stated that we need to focus on the public policy implications of these findings:
Public policy investments in transit should consider potential increases in physical activity as part of the broader set of cost-benefit calculations of transit systems. Land-use planning and travel choice have a clear impact on health outcomes.
It is incredibly important to note this last point — the effect of land-use planning on overall quality of life. It’s no secret that well-planned transportation networks rely on effective land-use planning strategies (ones that put people before cars). This is part of the reason why RenewLV’s Sustainable Transporation Initiative has a strong focus on regional land-use planning. It seems appropriate then to make the connection between the overall health of a population and the design of a community (i.e. the presence of sidewalks, bike lanes, etc.).
Unfortunately, many transportation policies still favor the the building of new roads rather than creating robust public transit systems. I believe that there should be a balance struck in funding roads and transit — one that can be advocated for by public health professionals. Perhaps creating stronger ties between transportation and public health can encourage this.