Walking in the U.S. comes with a combination of safety risks and health benefits. That tradeoff has a lot to do with where you live and what demographic group you fall in, according to several new studies. Overall, the most disadvantaged groups—people of color and those in lower income brackets—often face the greatest risks while getting the fewest benefits.
More and more people are recognizing the costs associated with driving, and that driving less opens space for alternatives and makes us healthier. Now new research adds one more tick to the human health costs column: particulates from transportation cause cancer.
A recent study from the Netherlands found that while active travel might not affect body weight, it does have a significant positive impact on a traveler’s mental health. The results from this study suggest that while active travel does not predict BMI, the decrease in BMI levels as a result of healthy eating habits and physical exercise does result in the uptake of active travel. Conversely, an increase in BMI was associated with decreased affinity toward active travel. On the other hand, the researchers observed a strong relationship between active travel and the traveler experiencing positive emotions.
The health risks of exposure to transportation noise may not command the same attention as those of exposure to particulate matter or motor vehicle crashes. But it turns out that prolonged exposure to noise is a serious matter, with numerous deleterious health effects—from sleep disruption and behavioral changes, to hearing loss, hypertension, and heart disease. New research focusing on Houston, Texas, attributes nearly as many premature deaths to transportation noise as to motor vehicle crashes, and shows that low-income households are at heightened risk of death from transportation noise exposure.
A new paper under review presents evidence that exposure to pollution—including that from motor vehicles—reduces the survival rate of individuals who have contracted COVID-19. Those most at risk of death have underlying diseases which may be due to, or exacerbated by, long-term pollution exposure. This adds to the mounting awareness that disadvantaged communities may disproportionately bear the brunt of the effects of COVID-19.
From the UK comes more evidence that improving cycling infrastructure has the potential to advance health. A new paper in the BMJ concludes that while commuting by bicycle has more risk of injury than commuting by non-active modes, active commuting offers substantial benefits to health. Lowering the currently elevated risk of injury to cyclists by improving cycling conditions may encourage more people to commute by active modes and improve the health of the overall population as well as reducing emissions.
Smart Growth America recently released a new report, The State of Transportation and Health Equity, a field scan looking at the intersection of transportation and health equity in the U.S. today. The report summarizes lessons based on interviews with 92 experts working across disciplines at the local, state, and federal levels across the country. It identifies the biggest challenges to health equity facing our transportation system and strategies to address them. SGA will be hosting a webinar about the report on Thursday, January 23, at 2:30 p.m. EST.
A recent study finds that long-term residential exposure to locally emitted black carbon—primarily from traffic exhaust—is associated with higher stroke incidence. BC comprises a significant portion of particulate matter. Although BC is a known health hazard with health effects that are especially pronounced in populations in dense urban areas, the U.S. does not currently include it as a separate criteria pollutant in its National Ambient Air Quality Standards.
New research investigates whether people who spend more time walking and biking daily to work and errands spend less time exercising overall. The study findings indicate the opposite—the likelihood of recreational exercise is actually higher, rather than lower, for people participating in active travel. In other words, active travel adds to overall daily physical activity, rather than substituting for other exercise.
On June 18, the Madison, WI, bikesharing system became the first in the U.S. to switch its entire fleet to electric pedal-assist bikes, although other cities have been adding e-bikes to their fleet for several years. Results from a comparison of e-bike vs. standard bike usage show pedal-assist bikes may be the key to increasing bike mode share, especially as part of a city bikesharing program. In addition, recent studies also show that we are still getting plenty of exercise, even when getting help from the electric motor.