Studies back need for better transit: doctors

METRO VANCOUVER – Fraser Health’s top doctors are calling on the public to support the “Yes” vote in the upcoming plebiscite, citing two new reports highlighting the “overwhelming health benefits” of public transit.

The doctors say new data from a Fraser Health community survey shows active transportation has a positive influence on overall wellness and health.

“Our survey, which included 28,000 Metro Vancouver respondents, found that Metro residents who commute by transit, walking or biking are more likely to be physically active and less likely to be overweight or obese than those who commute by car,” said chief medical health officer Dr. Patricia Daly in a release.

“A ‘yes’ vote in the upcoming transit referendum is a vote to improve our health now and for decades to come.”

Interim chief medical health officer Dr. Victoria Lee said many chronic illnesses are preventable and our physical surroundings have a major impact on whether people develop those chronic problems.

“Given the rising rates of obesity in Canada and rise in associated diseases such as diabetes, these results indicate the potential for investments in active transportation to directly affect these health trends.”

Key findings of the 2013-14 survey, entitled My Health, My Community Transportation and Health report, include statistics showing 33 per cent of those people who do not commute by car have lower odds of being overweight or obese. Those odds increase to 48 per cent if biking or walking and improve by 22 per cent just by taking public transit.

However, Metro Vancouver residents who commute by transit have the longest commute times, highlighting the need for investment in better transportation infrastructure, the survey notes.

Transit use is highest among lower income households, visible minorities and recent immigrants.

Fraser Health says the results echo the findings of a new academic report entitled, Health Benefits of Transit Investment: Policy Brief, by UBC Professor Lawrence Frank.

Reviewing 30 studies on transit and health across North America and beyond, Frank found when transit improvements are made residents not only use the new infrastructure but walk more and are less likely to develop obesity and chronic diseases.

Key findings of that study show transit users accumulate anywhere between 12 and 18 minutes of additional walking per day compared to non-transit users, and can get 25 per cent of their daily recommended physical activity that way.

The results showed on a weigh scale as well, with average transit users weighing 6.5 pounds less than their bumper-to-bumper counterparts, and are 81 per cent less likely to develop obesity as they age.

Transit is also statistically safer than driving. In an analysis of three decades of traffic data from 100 U.S. cities, a 10 per cent increase in the percentage of “passenger-miles” of travel using public transit resulted in a 1.5 per cent reduction in traffic fatalities.

Surrey is specifically mentioned in the policy brief, which states that if the city wants to create walkable communities it will require significant investment in transit. According to Mayor Linda Hepner, Surrey and other South Fraser communities stand to benefit from a number of infrastructure improvements – including cycle paths, Light Rail Transit and the Pattullo Bridge replacement – should voters approve a 0.5 per cent Metro Vancouver sales tax that would raise $7.5 billion over the next decade.

However, according to a recent survey, residents south of the Fraser River are among the strongest opponents of the proposed tax. An Insights West poll conducted last week showed 55 per cent of 1,604 Metro Vancouver residents plan to vote “No” to the regional tax, with drivers, residents over 55, South Fraser residents and people who don’t commute during the work week making up the bulk of the opposition.

Ballots are expected to begin arriving in mailboxes on Monday (March 16) and residents have until May 29 to return their vote by mail.

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