A new report, released by the American Public Transportation Association, which surveys current research has found that people who live in communities with high-quality public transportation drive less, exercise more, live longer, and are generally healthier than residents of communities that lack quality public transit.
Evaluating Public Transportation Health Benefits, a study conducted for APTA by Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute aggregates the findings of several recent studies and concludes that people living in transit-oriented “smart growth” communities enjoy several health benefits, not seen in other communities, including residents drive less, exposing them to a lower risk of fatal vehicle accidents.
Such communities also have less pollution, because public transportation produces far less emissions per passenger mile than private automobiles. In addition, people who live near quality public transit are more likely to undertake regular physical activity than residents of automobile-dependent communities.
“Public transportation enhances the overall quality of life of an individual and a community,” said APTA president William Millar. “Use of public transit simply means that you walk more which increases fitness levels and leads to healthier citizens. More importantly, increasing use of public transit may be the most effective traffic safety counter measure a community can employ.”
The APTA report notes, transportation activity also plays a role in lessening an individual’s risk in five of the 10 leading causes of reduced lifespan, as identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A recent CDC study evaluated causes of potential years of life lost, including cancer, heart disease, motor vehicle crashes, and other causes. For example, “Pollution contributes to cancer and congenital anomalies [birth defects], and sedentary living ... contributes to heart disease and strokes,” Litman wrote.
One solution is smart growth communities, according to Litman, who cited a 2003 study finding that urban residents had significantly lower violent death rates, whether from vehicle accidents or other causes.
Litman also noted that the 10 U.S. counties with the “smartest,” most transit-oriented growth have approximately one-fourth the traffic fatality rates as those counties with the most sprawling development. For example, the traffic fatality rate for the Bronx, NY was approximately four per 100,000 residents. However, for Miami, KS, the rate was almost 40 per 100,000.
Moreover, other recent studies have found that users of public transportation walk more than those who do not use public transit, regardless of income.
The health benefits of public transportation should be given greater consideration in transportation planning, Litman concluded. “A growing portion of households want to rely more on alternative modes and live in more accessible, multi-modal communities,” he wrote. “Accommodating this demand would provide benefits to users and society, including significant health benefits.
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The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) is a nonprofit international association of 1,500 public and private sector organizations, engaged in the areas of bus, paratransit, light rail, commuter rail, subways, waterborne services, and intercity and high-speed passenger rail. This includes: transit systems; planning, design, construction, and finance firms; product and service providers; academic institutions; transit associations and state departments of transportation. APTA is the only association in North America that represents all modes of public transportation. APTA members serve the public interest by providing safe, efficient and economical transit services and products More than 90 percent of the people using public transportation in the United States and Canada ride APTA member systems.