The road to good health is paved with walking, biking, and transit - Mobility Lab

Driving is often a miserable experience that leaves people isolated and physically deprived

Yet, on average, Americans commute 50 minutes daily and 90 percent of the time by car, says writer Kirsten Dirksen in the Huffington Post.

Much of this suffering is due to the ways we built up our places during a time in our history when bicycling and walking became afterthoughts.

We forgot that bicycling and walking are great for your health. Transit, in turn, encourages walking and biking. And properly designed neighborhoods encourage walking, biking, and transit.

The shape of cities and transit networks thus shapes our health. So say a plethora of studies and real-life examples from around the world, which collectively constitute overwhelming evidence for the public-health benefits of smart planning and transportation options.

Yet, in today’s cities and suburbs, the lack of such options and planning is killing us. Around the world, “approximately 5.3 million people die prematurely every year due to cardiovascular diseases, breast and colon cancer and diabetes, and other illnesses associated with sedentary lifestyles,” notes Dario Hidalgo of TheCityFix.

Of course, providing better transit alone will not fix this problem (healthy food, for one, is obviously important), but it is certainly a good start.

It seems like a jump to get people to switch from their drive-alone car cocoons to transit, and even moreso to get them to bike. However, the correlation between biking and physical health is well established and makes a pretty strong argument.

People who bicycle regularly weigh some nine pounds less than those who predominantly drive, explains an Imperial College, London report. (I would argue that the benefits are even greater, as I think that weight or body mass index [BMI] are limited metrics of overall health. I’d like to see more emphasis on other data, such as cardiovascular fitness and ratio of muscle to body fat).

Transportation options is the gift that keeps on giving

An efficient, affordable transit network is one key to better health. This can be as basic as a solid bus service, or can include a plethora of enhanced bus options and rail. Whatever the system, people who use transit “get more than three times the amount of physical activity per day than those who don’t,” just by walking to and from it, according to TransLoc – 19 minutes of exercise daily versus six minutes for those who don’t use transit.

Transit also reduces air pollution, making everyone healthier. Not to mention that city buses today often have cleaner engines than do cars.

Public transit also causes fewer accidents than individual cars, is far safer, is known to reduce stress, and improves the quality of life for vulnerable populations.

As just one example, Bogota, Columbia’s heralded TransMilenio bus rapid transit (BRT) system encourages walking. According to TheCityFix, a study found that TransMilenio riders get 22 minutes a day and 150 minutes per week of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity more than non-users.

Alongside transit, separated bicycle paths encourage biking, and biking in turn improves public health. Fox News explains that “every $1,300 New York City invested in building bike lanes in 2015 provided benefits equivalent to one additional year of life at full health over the lifetime of all city residents.” My niece in Brooklyn has been part of this trend. She started biking to her job – saving time and money as well as improving her health – when a separated bike lane was built.

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