August 11, 2010

Report: Communities with quality public transit drive less, live longer

A new American Public Transportation Association (APTA) report, which surveys current research, 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 driving less, which exposes 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, according to the report.

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.

Moreover, other recent studies have found that users of public transportation walk more than those who do not use public transit, regardless of income.

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