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Monday, 28 April 2014

Moving to active transportation: A Public Health winner: Transportation and Health Part 3

To facilitate the shift to more active forms of transportation requires tangential thinking that puts the fuel driven vehicles to the side and accommodates a variety of forms of transport.  Few would question the need for sidewalks to keep pedestrians safe.  Now consideration must be given to not only the time honoured bicycle, but also bladers, long boarders, scooters, golf carts, and whatever novel means of active transport that innovation may conceive (rickshaws, snowshoers etc….)

The current discourse focuses on accommodating cyclists has learned much about how to make cycling safer.  The more cyclists, the safer the streets (check out the Washington Post ).  Ideally, physically separate lanes dedicated to cyclists alone.  However, even road lines help, and some physical barrier like cones or even tin cans make the separation safer.   The downside is the cost of road construction and maintenance for distinct lanes.  Moreover, accommodating cyclists only does not address the need for sharing the road with bladers, boarders and other newer forms that also quality as active transport. 

Wait though, this thinking assumes that roadways should be primarily constructed to support increasing vehicle capacity. It turns out, and has been shown in enough locations, that decreasing vehicle access, decreasing vehicle use, decreases congestion and increases active transportation.  So why do we continue to politically cater to the whims of the vociferous drivers insisting on pouring public funds into the very infrastructure that clogs up our body’s arteries? 

In 1969 supposedly 12% of students were driven to school.  By 2012 only 12% of students were walking to school.  In Canada merely 2% of students bike to school, in Denmark, Netherlands and China that proportion is 40-50%.  In the US, it is only 1%.  The latest trend being the re-establishment of the walking school bus.  Accompanied by adults along set routes and times, students join the “bus” on the way to school.  A pleasant retreat back to active mode of animating youth into physical exertion as part of the daily routine rather than just part a course of physical education. The added advantage being the inherent social networking that collective commutes share.  

While scooters may not seem a form of active transport, for the disabled, elderly and shut-ins, they have reopened access to the outdoors and increased mobility for those that might otherwise deteriorate more quickly.  Although the limited evidence available suggests that scooters contribute to more rapid decline, the research is at best limited to draw conclusions.

For those diehards cyclists that have never hung up their helmets, those experimenting in long boarding or thinking of trying some new mode of transport they remain the innovators that take risks and suffer the consequences. While overall safety profiles have tended to improve over time, where active transporters and cars collide, the car rarely is the loser. 

There is much to be learned from the global analysis of what many other countries have learned, investing in public transit and active transportation results in decongestion of the roadway and improvements in individual health – what should be a winning combination.  Long term sustainability of our communities actually depends on it.  More information on sustainability in transport planning can be found at http://www.embarq.org/ with a specific analysis of Saving Lives through sustainable transport  an excellent monograph on the migration away from car dependence on roads.

Those interested in learning and following more on trends in transportation, check out Twitter @BrentToderian out of Vancouver. To review past tweets is in of itself an education in transportation planning. 

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