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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Transportation and Public Health


An important article in Annual Review looks at the connection between transportation and health.

Americans often wonder why the French, Japanese, etc. stay slim while eating so well.

We are not experts but would posit that one factor - the act of commuting on a bus, subway, train or better yet a bike - plays a large role in keeping one relatively fit.

Outside of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, and San Francisco, there are few places in the United States where riding public transportation is safe, clean, efficient, and and convenient. Ergo, Americans walk from their front door to the car door, drive on subsidized oil on subsidized roads to a subsidized parking space in a lot at the suburban office park.

And gain weight.

We are not making a moral argument - Americans are not bad - but a practical argument. The "best" form of transport in 9 out of 10 (99 out of 100?) cases is the car. Therefore, Americans make the logical, practical decision to get behind the wheel.

Here in Kyoto, driving is something of a luxury. Gas prices are at world levels - not US levels - an annual automobile tax is expensive, parking is at a premium, roads are crowded, and good public transportation is available. Thus, Japanese make the logical, practical decision to walk, ride, or cycle.

Here is the abstract. For those not a member though, there is a fee to read the entire article.

"This article investigates various ways that transportation policy and planning decisions affect public health and better ways to incorporate public health objectives into transport planning. Conventional planning tends to consider some public health impacts, such as crash risk and pollution emissions measured per vehicle-kilometer, but generally ignores health problems resulting from less active transport (reduced walking and cycling activity) and the additional crashes and pollution caused by increased vehicle mileage. As a result, transport agencies tend to undervalue strategies that increase transport system diversity and reduce vehicle travel. This article identifies various win-win strategies that can help improve public health and other planning objectives."


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