Better Transportation Means Better Health, Says WHO Better Transportation Means Better Health, Says WHO
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Better Transportation Means Better Health, Says WHO

by Ann Marie Gardner

January 31, 2011

Public transportation and bikes have long been a focus in Copenhagen, where they believe a healthy city makes walking and cycling the preferred mode of transportation. That idea is starting to catch on in the United States, as the City Fix blog found during the Transforming Transportation Conference in Washington, D.C.

And the first step is figuring out just how much walking and cycling improve people's health:

It is crucial to develop a robust, simple and meaningful set of indicators to measure the impact of transport policy on public health in order to achieve any real change in the status quo, according to Dr. Carlos Dora of the World Health Organization.

Transport is important for public health because of a number of connections. Every year, 1.2 million people die in traffic crashes each year. And physical inactivity is responsible for 3.2 million deaths and 19 million healthy life years lost annually. Other health risks come from outdoor urban air pollution, traffic injuries, traffic noise, climate change and non-communicable diseases, like heart disease and diabetes.

WHO has even developed a tool, known as the health economic assessment (HEAT) tool, to estimate the economic savings resulting from reductions in mortality that result from cycling. 

Last year New York's Mayor Bloomberg hired Danish architect and city planner Jan Gehl to help make New York City more sustainable. At the time, Gehl lamented the lack of seats along New York's pedestrian routes. 

New York has hardly done anything for 30 years to improve the quality of public realm. 

Since then, Gehl has been helping New York with its bicycle strategy (which Bloomberg has done much apologizing for lately). Yesterday, the New York Post reported on the Mayor's shortcomings in New York's bike lane rollout:

Mayor Bloomberg conceded last night that his administration hasn’t done enough to consult with communities about bike lanes after irate residents of the Rockaways heckled a top Transportation Department official who extolled their virtues at a town hall meeting.

Jan Gehl seems to be having more success on mobility plans to decrease traffic and open bike lanes in Mexico, China, and England. He's also designing urban strategies and public spaces for Sao Paolo, Brazil, Muscat, Oman and Dublin, Ireland. And as Alissa Walker noted this morning, on top of all that Gehl is sprucing up Figueroa Street in Los Angeles.

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Better Transportation Means Better Health, Says WHO