Public Transit Good for Your Health

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.

What do you think?

To learn more RenewLV’s work on these issues, visit our Sustainable Transportation Initiative page and our Regional Health Initiative page.

About Beata Bujalska

Beata Bujalska is the former Campaign Coordinator for Renew Lehigh Valley. She currently lives in Panama, a place that fascinates her due to (among other reasons) its recent development boom.

Posted on July 1, 2010, in Health, Public Infrastructure, Transportation, Urbanism and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I think that problem is not that we don’t understand the benefits; I think we do, at least indirectly. The problem is there is little direct govt benefit to providing livable communities. Yes they get people out of cars and get them walking and improve health, but here in the US the govt is not financially involved in our health, it’s not important to the bottom line since we do not have a govt run health system. Cars bring in money by lots of fees where are easy to raise. Rail is very expensive to build, but cheaper to run in the long run when looking at passenger costs per mile. We need to internalize the externalities before people will truly start understanding the benefits to society that public transit provides. We need to start looking at the true cost to society of the car and start figuring out a way to include that cost when building new car infrastructure. The benefits of bike, bus, rail, and unicycle infrastructure should be included in the cost for a project, looking at the money saved to the community by increasing walking, livability, access what have you. I think we can do it and some understand the true benefits and the huge cost savings achieved by good transit, but many do not and will not until it becomes a hard figure

  2. Urban planning began as a profession primarily concerned with public health. It’s about time we get back to that.

  3. Secundra Beasley

    I think that their is some truth to it but alot more research needs to be done to make this a done deal. I live in Cleveland Ohio and take public transportation exclusively. I notice that people do walk to take the bus or the rapid but the distance from their residence to the bus stop is very short. The only excerise comes from trying to catch the bus before it leaves.

    Also, those who take the bus/rapid mutliuse the transit system. Ex: roll blunts on empty seats and leave the residue on the seat, drink pop and leave their cans, water bottles, water on the bus, eat chips and leave their chip bags on the bus. If anything, taking public transportation gives you more of a reason to induldge in “bad habits.”

    The one thing that public transporation has done is forced former riders into cyclists. The transportation system is in a financial crisis. Bus and rapid stops have been reduced, layoffs have occured in all levels of the transit system and a all day pass to ride the transit system is $5.00.

    While I appauld the study, and see some transporation groups use this a fuel for their campaign, I stilll dream of the day when those who want us to be car free, remove themselves from their “ivory towers” and see how the other half truly lives.

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