Active transportation including walking, cycling, wheeling and any human-powered form of transport is increasingly popular in urban centres but also in mid-sized and smaller towns. Looking forward, infrastructure that facilitates active transportation will become increasingly important to meet the needs and demands of an aging population and the millennial generation who are ”less likely to learn to drive, own cars or drive as much as earlier generations”.[xi]
Many local governments have invested in active transportation facilities but need more financial support to build complete networks that will get residents more physically active. Smaller communities are especially challenged due to a small tax base and limited budgets. The Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute found in a survey of Canadian Municipalities that “three in five communities report that an increase in the amount of walking, bicycling and multi‐purpose trails was the most pressing infrastructure need in their community to increase physical activity levels among citizens.”[xii]
Community planning and infrastructure exerts a powerful influence over citizen’s access to healthy foods and ability to be physically active in their daily routines. “Research is increasingly demonstrating links between the built environment and eating and physical activity behaviours.” [xiii]
BC research found that adults are 2.5 times more likely to engage in active transportation when living in compact and well connected neighbourhoods. They are also more likely to get the recommended amounts of daily physical activity.[xiv] Furthermore, studies show that neighbourhoods that support active transportation are associated with reduced risk for obesity and reduced air pollution. One study found “a 5% increase in walkability to be associated with a per capita 32.1% increase in time spent in physically active travel, a 0.23-point reduction in body mass index, 6.5% fewer vehicle miles traveled, 5.6% fewer grams of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) emitted, and 5.5% fewer grams of volatile organic compounds (VOC) emitted.”
The BC Ministry of Health’s ‘Healthy Families BC Policy Framework’ identifies seven evidence-based “best investments” for physical activity, which includes “transport policies and systems that prioritize walking, cycling and public transport.” This builds on a report by the Provincial Health Services Authority finding that “there is a growing consensus among public health experts that supporting more physically active modes of transportation and better access to recreational opportunities offer the most effective ways to increase activity levels across the population, particularly among people who are overweight and/or inactive.”[xv]
British Columbia needs an Active Transportation Strategy that will align policy and funding to support the development of local infrastructure within a larger provincial network. Other jurisdictions have adopted comprehensive cycling or active transportation plans such as neighbouring states, Washington, Oregon and Idaho. In Canada, Quebec has their well-known provincial network, the ‘Route Verte’ in addition to provincial bicycle policy and a new complementary Sustainable Mobility Strategy. Ontario has a new cycling strategy #CycleON that includes a 20-year vision with aspirational goals to make Ontario an internationally recognized destination for cycling. Nova Scotia’s Provincial Active Transportation Task Team was formed in 2010 with representatives from nine government departments and is now close to completing their first provincial policy framework for active transportation.
Building an active transportation network that meets the needs of British Columbians beyond the next ten years will require a significant increase in infrastructure funding. For example, high quality cycling facilities that are attractive to a significant portion of the population such as bicycle paths and separated bicycle lanes can cost from $1 million to $4 million per km (1/6 the cost of one km of road network for motorized vehicles).xvi
The Netherlands, considered a global leader in cycling provides funding at $40/person/year and other jurisdictions have made similar investments: Winnipeg $32/person/year; Brisbane $51/person/year; London $27/person/year.[xvi] To compete with other leading jurisdictions, BC should be investing between $88M and $175M in active transportation per year over the next ten years.
The province is fortunate to have and should take advantage of the expertise that exists within British Columbia’s academic institutions and among practicing planners, engineers and community advocates. Indeed, Vancouver has been recognized internationally for growth of walking and cycling trips and will be the host city for Pro Walk / Pro Bike / Pro Place in in 2016 with the theme of “Better Health through Active Transportation.” This would be an ideal forum for the province to consult with experts from across North America and to profile BC’s next steps in developing an active transportation strategy.
First photo: John Luton
Share studies, articles or your stories on cycling, walking and health
A new study from researchers at the University of Glasgow found that people who cycle to work live longer having a lower risk of death from any cause. They also state that population health may be increased by policies that encourage active transportation including the building of bike lanes.
The study, published on Thursday in the BMJ, found that compared to "a non-active commute", riding a bike to work was associated with a 45 percent lower risk of cancer and a 46 percent lower risk of heart disease.
The article in StudyFinds states:
The study examined how 264,000 people — averaging about 53 years old and pulled from a British database focusing on biological information — got to work each day. The participants indicated on a questionnaire their modes of transportation — be it by car, bike, public transportation, or foot. They were also polled on their level of physical activity.
In a follow-up about five years after the study began, researchers then determined which participants had either died or were admitted to a hospital at some point during the study. They determined that the participants who commuted to work by bicycle had the lowest risk of death from any cause and lowest risk of cancer.
Of course, the researchers caution that the results are strictly observational, and that cause-and-effect can’t be concluded from this study. “The findings, if causal, suggest population health may be improved by policies that increase active commuting, particularly cycling, such as the creation of cycle lanes, cycle hire or purchase schemes, and better provision for cycles on public transport,” the study notes.
A new study revealed that people who rode their bicycle habitually are less likely to develop type 2 diabetes compared to those who do not cycle on daily basis.
The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, suggests that individuals who started to ride their bike regularly have 20 percent reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who do not practice the habit.
"Because cycling can be included in everyday activities, it may be appealing to a large part of the population. This includes people who due to lack of time, would not otherwise have the resources to engage in physical activity," explained Martin Rasmussen of the University of Southern Denmark, in a statement.
The best news of all? Those who started cycling regularly after the study began—meaning after age 50—still had lower risk of T2D than those who didn’t bike.
The authors note that one of the challenges of replacing commuting by car with cycling is having the infrastructure to support the change. A population health strategy that sought to promote cycling for diabetes prevention would have to address this issue.
The many benefits walking and cycling come from increases in physical activity and accessibility, and reductions in traffic congestion, injuries, localized air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.
Commuting by cycling and walking allows people to build physical activity into their daily routine. With people’s many responsibilities and daily time commitments, using active transportation may indeed be the only way they can get the daily exercise they require to stay in shape. They just don't have time to go to the gym or take exercise, aerobic, spin or yoga classes.
- Physical inactivity and air pollution are risk factors for chronic diseases. Overall, the 34% of British Columbians diagnosed with chronic conditions consume approximately 80% of the combined Medical Services Plan, PharmaCare and acute care budgets.
- Air pollution affects human health, from minor upper respiratory irritation to chronic respiratory and heart disease, lung cancer, acute respiratory infections in children and chronic bronchitis in adults, aggravating pre-existing heart and lung disease, or asthmatic attacks and reduced life expectancy.
- The World Health Organization has classified Diesel Particulate Matter (DPM) as a Class 1 human carcinogen based on evidence that is a cause of lung cancer.
- Reductions in air pollution have been shown to extend life expectancy.
- BC research found that adults are 2.5 times more likely to engage in active transportation when living in compact and well connected neighbourhoods and more likely to get the recommended amounts of daily physical activity and have reduced likelihood of obesity.
- Studies estimate that the average transit rider walks between 1 – 1.3km per day and is more than 3 times more likely to meet the minimum guidelines for daily physical activity.
- The Ministry of Health’s ‘Healthy Families BC Policy Framework’ identifies seven evidence-based “best investments” for physical activity, which includes “transport policies and systems that prioritize walking, cycling and public transport.”
Social Connectedness and Equity
- By providing a means of transportation to go to work, access social networks, education, and leisure activities to those that otherwise may not have access can dramatically improve mental health and reduce social isolation. Equity should be a goal in transportation planning.
- “People living in rural communities generally need to travel longer distances, and often on more dangerous roads, for work, shopping and other reasons. Not surprisingly, injuries and death due to traffic accidents are much more common in rural areas” according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information.
Economic Costs and Benefits
- Excess weight costs $612M and inactivity costs $335M in direct healthcare costs annually in British Columbia.
- The approximately 60 walking and cycling fatalities per year is estimated to cost society $900 million annually.
- High quality cycling facilities that are attractive to a significant portion of the population such as bicycle paths and separated bicycle lanes can cost from $1 million to $4 million per km (1/6 the cost of one km of road network for motorized vehicles).
- Cycling Tourism has enormous economic potential. Tourists cycling in Oregon “generated approximately $400 million in 2012, or $1.2 million per day.”
More including references here.
Studies have shown that there are significant benefits to employers of having staff that are physically active. People who participate in physical activities report fewer days off due to illness (by 6-32%), lower turnover rates , lower healthcare costs (by 20-55%) and increased productivity (by 2-52%) than non-physically active employees.
Commuting by active transportation allows people to build physical activity into their daily routine. With people’s many responsibilities and daily time commitments, using active transportation may indeed be the only way they can get the daily physical activity they require. They just don't have time to go to the gym. Commuting by active transportation may prove to be more acceptable and more cost-efficient than programmes that focus on activities at the work site during the day.
There is an opportunity cost to participants of organized physical activity programs at work such as exercise, aerobic, spin or yoga classes. Such activities involve either the employer allowing the employee to take time off or the employee engaging in these activities during work breaks.
The majority of organizations that have tracked the results of physical activity programs or initiatives report that participating employees are pleased with the results.
Employees report that physical activity improves:
- Personal productivity;
- Job satisfaction;
- Enjoyment of work
- Reaction time;
- Mental alertness;
- Memory; and
- Mental concentration
The ability of a physically active executive group to make complex decisions increases dramatically compared to non-exercisers. Studies suggest that those who exercise work at full efficiency all day, amounting to a 12.5% increase in productivity over those who do not exercise.
A recent study reports that "Cyclists in the Netherlands live on average six months longer than their non-biking counterparts. Each year about 6,500 deaths are prevented in the country."
The average Dutch person cycles about 75 minutes each week. That accounts for over a quarter of all trips made. We knew that our cycling culture made us healthier, but it wasn’t until recently that we learnt just how much. Researchers from Utrecht combined cycling statistics with the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) new computational tool for the study.
More at: Dutch bikers live six months longer
The health benefits are one of the main reasons the BC Cycling Coalition is recommending the BC Government invest $1 billion over ten years to enable all the people of the province to cycle, walking or use other light-weight mobility devices for their daily trips. Please sign the Cycling and Walking for Everyone petition.