August 16, 2010
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Study: Living Near Transit Means Living Healthier and Longer
Residents of 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, according to Evaluating Public Transportation Health Benefits, a survey of current research conducted by Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute on behalf of APTA.
“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 countermeasure a community can employ.”
By aggregating the findings of several recent studies, the study concludes that people who live in transit-oriented “smart growth” communities enjoy several health benefits compared to those who do not:
* They drive less, exposing them to a lower risk of fatal vehicle accidents;
* They experience less environmental pollution because public transportation produces far less emissions per passenger mile than private automobiles; and
* They are more likely to undertake regular physical activity than are residents of automobile-dependent communities.
The researcher also showed that transportation activity plays a role 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, and motor vehicle crashes. 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. The same study 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 sprawl development.
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.”
The report is available online.