Lack of transportation is hurting our health

Posted on May 27, 2011 by Nicole Schlosser

This week saw the release of three different reports providing concrete evidence that transportation conditions in the U.S. are wanting.

Apparently, in many places, traffic and our commutes are killing us prematurely, we can’t walk anywhere safely and even huge gas price increases will not get us out of our cars; they will just put us into more fuel-efficient ones.

The Harvard Center for Risk Analysis (HCRA) at the School of Public Health’s study, "The Public Health Costs of Traffic Congestion: A Health Risk Assessment," says that the fine particulate matter that comes from traffic congestion led to more than 2,200 premature deaths in the U.S. last year.

Adding to the concern for public health was Transportation For America’s "Dangerous by Design 2011: Solving the Epidemic of Preventable Pedestrian Deaths." The report shows how roadway designs promoted by federal investment endanger people on foot. Findings show that pedestrians account for nearly 12 percent of total U.S. traffic fatalities.

However, “state departments of transportation have largely ignored pedestrian safety from a budgetary perspective, allocating only about 1.5 percent of available federal funds to projects that retrofit dangerous roads or create safe alternatives.”

Most compelling to me was a new Gallup poll that found that Americans are most likely to say they would seek vehicles that get better gas mileage if gas prices keep rising but don't go above the $5-per-gallon range. Americans are second most likely to say they would use mass transit.

On the face of it, that was an impressive showing for transit, but going deeper into the results, a striking 52 percent of respondents said that they wouldn’t take public transit no matter how much gas prices increase. That number didn’t include low income Americans, — defined as earning $30,000 per year or less, which I assume means per household — who made up 32 percent of respondents. Not surprisingly, they were the most likely of all the income groups to turn to transit to mitigate the hit that gas prices are taking to their budgets.

Still, even knowing how many people opt to get into their cars every day instead of taking the time to figure out their transit options and make the switch, that number seemed high to me. If more people knew how much traffic congestion, long commutes and lack of walkability in many areas impact us in an unhealthy way, would they change their habits or become more supportive of public transit in their community? Will this information have any impact on those holding the purse strings in Congress?

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