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Transit And Walkable Communities -- A Healthy Combination

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Improving public transportation and making communities more walkable can have significant impacts on public health, according to a study written for the American Public Transportation Association by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute.

"Evaluating Public Transportation Health Benefits," a survey of recent studies on the topic, found that improving public transit can be one of the most cost effective ways to achieve public health objectives, and public health improvements are among the largest benefits provided by high quality public transit and transit-oriented development.

Among the study's findings:

  • Residents of transit-oriented communities have only about a quarter the per capita traffic fatality rate as residents of sprawled, automobile-dependent communities.
  • Public transit reduces pollution emissions per passenger-mile, and transit-oriented development provides additional emission reductions by reducing per capita vehicle travel.
  • Although less than half of American adults get recommended levels of exercise, most public transportation passengers do while walking to and from transit stations and stops.
  • Among people with safe places to walk within ten minutes of home, 43 percent achieve physical activity targets, compared with just 27 percent of less walkable area residents.
  • The United States has relatively poor health outcomes and high healthcare costs compared with peers due in part to high per capita traffic fatality rates and diseases resulting from sedentary living.
  • Among physically able adults, average annual medical expenditures are 32% lower for those who achieve physical activity targets than for those who are sedentary.
  • Many physically and economically disadvantaged people depend on public transportation to access to medical services and obtain healthy, affordable food.
  • Current demographic and economic trends (aging population, rising fuel prices, increasing health and environmental concerns, and rising medical care costs) are increasing the value of public transportation health benefits.
  • When all impacts are considered, improving public transit can be one of the most cost effective ways to achieve public health objectives, and public health improvements are among the largest benefits provided by high quality public transit and transit-oriented development.
  • "This is not to suggest that people should be forced to shift from driving to walking, cycling and public transit travel just to achieve health objectives, but it does suggest that decision makers and the general public should be informed about the substantial safety and health benefits that can result from improved public transit and more transit-oriented development," the study concludes.

This study has been added to the Best Practices.

Evaluating Public Transportation Health Benefits