Health benefits of switching to transport and bikes

Some of the most robust research, internationally, of the health benefits derived from switching car use to other modes is coming out of the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology (CREAL) in Barcelona. They have looked at the impacts of Barcelona’s bike-sharing system in the past. Their latest work is more generally about the benefits of public transport and bike. Yes, they are working with future scenarios. Yes, there are lots of assumptions embedded. But the framework and the identification of key outcomes and specific measures is good to see.

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Cover imageReplacing car trips by increasing bike and public transport in the
greater Barcelona metropolitan area: A health impact assessment study
Environment International
Volume 49, 15 November 2012, Pages 100–109
Rojas et al.
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412012001833
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Abstract

Objective
Estimate the health risks and benefits of mode shifts from car to cycling and public transport in the metropolitan area of Barcelona,Spain.
Methods
We conducted a health impact assessment (HIA), creating 8 different scenarios on the replacement of short and long car trips, by public transport or/and bike. The primary outcome measure was all-cause
mortality and change in life expectancy related to two different assessments: A) the exposure of travellers to physical activity, air pollution to particulate matter < 2.5 μm (PM2.5), and road traffic fatality; and B) the exposure of general population to PM2.5, modelling by Barcelona Air-Dispersion Model. The secondary outcome was a change in emissions of carbon dioxide.
Results
The annual health impact of a shift of 40% of the car trips, starting and ending in Barcelona City, to cycling (n = 141,690) would be for the travellers who shift modes 1.15 additional deaths from air pollution, 0.17 additional deaths from road traffic fatality and 67.46 deaths avoided from physical activity resulting in a total of 66.12 deaths avoided. Fewer deaths would be avoided annually if half of the replaced trips were shifted to public transport (43.76 deaths). The annual health impact in the Barcelona City general population (n = 1,630,494) of the 40% reduction in car trips would be 10.03 deaths avoided due to the reduction of 0.64% in exposure to PM2.5. The deaths (including travellers and general population) avoided in Barcelona City therefore would be 76.15 annually. Further health benefits would
be obtained with a shift of 40% of the car trips from the Greater Barcelona Metropolitan which either start or end in Barcelona City to public transport (40.15 deaths avoided) or public transport and
cycling (98.50 deaths avoided).The carbon dioxide reduction for shifting from car to other modes of transport (bike and public transport) in Barcelona metropolitan area was estimated to be 203,251
t/CO2 emissions per year.

Conclusions
Interventions to reduce car use and increase cycling and the use of public transport in metropolitan areas, like Barcelona, can produce health benefits for travellers and for the general population of the
city. Also these interventions help to reduce green house gas emissions.
Highlights

  • We assess the health impacts of replacing car trips by bicycle or public transport.
  • Replacement of the car trips reduces mortality in travellers who shift the mode.
  • Replacement of the car trips also reduces mortality in residents of urban areas.
  • Replacement of car trips can reduce the emissions of CO2.

Counting and tallying bikes, by day, month, year, etc

Who would have ever thought that a 7 foot structure that did  nothing more than count the number of vehicles passing by could create such a buzz?

We know that select cities in Europe have these counting devices. But that is Europe. I have often wondered what US city would be the first to the start line. It looks like Seattle wins the cake. 

The counter is is made by Eco Counter, and the model is the Eco Totem. Here is some information from the manufacturer. The good news is that we tested the Eco Counter and it was pretty reliable.

Helmetless

The helmetless debate ensues, this time in the NYTimes

Where should we come down on this matter? Here is what I want to know:

(1) Where helmetless behavior reigns strong, what is the average speed of the cyclist?

(2) Where helmetless behavior reigns strong, what is the average speed of the auto?

Nothing ever talks about these matters. I imagine both are substantially slower than in most US settings. Here’s a proposition: bring down the speeds of both and helmetless behavior might not be such a big deal.

Cyclists might not be as cheap as we think

Here’s an interesting spin on a different dimension of cyclists (and walkers): the degree to which their per visit expenditures (to supermarkets, bars, restaurants) are more or less than their auto counterparts. My close colleague, Kelly Clifton, recently presented the report to (of course) the Portland bicycling scene.

Holding steady, according to the ACS

Until someone can convince me that we have more consistently administered and robust measures of cycling walking–at least for comparative purposes and for the entire US–we continue to rely on the ACS.

Based on the summary from Wendell Cox, from ’10 til ’11, bicycling and walking each increased 0.03. Bicycling is now at 0.56%; walking is at 2.82%.

John Pucher on purely academic research vs. politics, implementation and practical approaches to getting things done

Courtesy of John Pucher (and used with permission), the following is a guest post where he is commenting on the central focus of a proposed conference on cycling.

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Some of the very best urban transportation research (and 95% of the refereed publication) is done in Australia, North America, and the UK.  Yet when you actually look at the walking, cycling, and public transport systems in the cities there, they lag far behind what you experience in Scandinavia, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria and much of western Europe.  Why is it that our superb academic research has been so ineffective (or at least very slow) in improving public policies??  I can assure you that the Dutch, Danes, Germans and Swiss did NOT wait for the results of academic studies to undertake the decisions that made their urban transport systems so much more sustainable than those in the USA, Australia, and Canada, in particular, but also much more than in the UK.

Refereed academic research gets promoted and much more rewarded in North America, Australia and the UK, but when I see the practical results on the ground, I feel like a LOT more emphasis needs to be placed on political implementation of the right policies.  Instead of spending yet more decades refining what we already know, I think it would yield more practical benefits to shift the focus more toward implementation.

Do we all really think it is total mystery what gets folks walking and cycling and taking transit?  Do we really need even more ultra-sophisticated simultaneous equations models (which almost no one can understand anyway) to prove what any person on the street can tell us?

In short, I would support Gil’s Penalosa’s contention that, however valuable academic research is, it is NOT the key to actual improvements on the ground, at least so far as I can tell.  It’s political actions and not equations that get folks on bikes, on their feet, and onto transit.

I apologize if this offends some of my academic colleagues, but after thousands of ever-more sophisticated academic articles on walking, cycling, and transit, we surely know enough about what needs to be done.  The more difficult question is HOW we get these measures implemented.

I do not want to put us academics out of business, so I certainly advocate continued research, but with more emphasis on political implementation.  One can argue that Velo City and Pro-Walk, Pro-Bike suffice for examining practical approaches toward implementation, but I think we academics need to think more about implementation issues as well and not act as if it’s up to someone else to put our recommendations into practice.”

John Pucher
Rutgers University

Denver Post op-ed on bicycle laws

The issues–and troubles–with cyclists needing to abide by auto traffic laws is nothing new. An op-ed from the Denver post suggests bicycles need their own rules. This is a big ask. Too big.

The details of who is responsible for what when it comes to bicycle treatments, particularly sharrows, mixed lanes and the sort is clearly problematic with various prescriptions offered. When we have a comprehensive approach that will fly politically, please let me know.

the Economist. Now on-board

The EconomistI have long considered The Economist as a somewhat reliable barometer for mostly, writing style…but also for reliable news about world events. Sure, its a bit liberal, but one could argue that writing style usually makes up for it.

They are now on-board with reporting on cycling. Though, this article, in my opinion, is lacking a bit. The usual dribble is rolled out about increases in cycling in North America; and they kind of hinge a lot on the “doubling” of the cycling population (sure, it is an increase of 100%, but it still hovers around 1%…fully within measurement error).

Still, it is refreshing to see such news reported in The Economist, I suppose.

 

Guest post: Kurt Nordback on Bike and Walking Under/over-passes: Separate but Equal

Last week I reported favorably on the new underpass being finished in Boulder. Here is another take on under/over-passes, in general, by Kurt Nordback (kurt@ieee.org), a software engineer who also likes to think about urban design and transportation policy.

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PICT1209.JPGTransportation engineers like to solve traffic problems using engineering solutions, meaning building things out of concrete and steel. That’s in their training and in their nature. In general, they prefer the “hard” approach of physical structures to “soft” solutions based on psychology and subtleties of human behavior.

In the US, for the past 50 years or so that has worked well, thanks to two factors: flush transportation budgets with plenty of room for expensive construction, and policy that equated “transportation” with “motor vehicles”. There’s psychology involved in engineering roadways for cars, to be sure; but cars are hard objects and they respond well to hard solutions.

So when roads intersect, the natural engineering response is to want to separate them vertically, eliminating both “delay” and any chance of T-bone crashes. When roads intersect bike-ped paths, engineers want to physically separate the cars from the people. Thus are born underpasses and bridges.

This separation of modes dates to the early stages of Modernist planning philosophy. Pedestrian underpasses were built in an early “Garden City”, Radburn, NJ, tellingly dubbed the “Town for the Motor Age”. Subsequent suburban developments across the country, inspired by Modernist ideas, also built underpasses or bridges, often with stairs or ramps to get people from their natural ground level to a level where they wouldn’t interfere with the roads.

Which brings us to the doctrine of “separate but equal”, which was used for decades to justify separate and unequal facilities for whites and blacks. The analogy only goes so far — there’s a categorical difference between unequal treatment based on skin color and unequal treatment based on modal choice — but, within its limits, it’s instructive. At any grade-separated crossing, cars go nice and straight, staying pretty much at ground level. People, whether as pedestrians or bicyclists, go up or down stairs or ramps, and around loops or curlicues. Cars get to go fast; people are hidden below ground or up high. The engineers justify this in terms of cost — it’s cheaper to build a big ramping loop for bikes than for cars — but that doesn’t change the fact that the treatment is unequal.

In 1954, the US Supreme Court finally saw through the lie of “separate but equal” in its decision in Brown v. Board of Education. Coincidentally, just three years earlier Jane Jacobs had published her critique of Modernist planning, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Jacobs did not speak to underpasses, but her embrace of robust urbanism and design that engages people in the active street life of the city leave little doubt as to how she would view them. The urban planner Jan Gehl, who follows in Jacobs’ footsteps 50 years later, has this to say about underpasses in his influential and insightful book, Cities for People: “Seen in the perspective of current visions of inviting people to walk and bicycle more in cities, clearly pedestrian underpasses and bridges can only be solutions in those special cases where major highways must be crossed. Solutions must be found for all other roads and streets that allow pedestrians and bicycles to stay on street level and cross with dignity…. Today the world is full of abandoned pedestrian underpasses and bridges. They belong to a certain time and a certain philosophy.”

Underpasses and bridges disengage pedestrians from the urban sphere, and hide them from the view of motorists. They are appropriate in certain circumstances, such as where an interurban path crosses an interstate highway, and also along greenway corridors, where path users are already intentionally disconnected from the city around them. But where they’re used just to get non-motorists across a city street, they are symptomatic of a less-than-wholehearted embrace of multimodalism, a clinging to the failed precepts of Modernism. The engineer may object that there’s no safe way for pedestrians to cross a high-speed road in the city, but the real question should be: what is a high-speed road doing in the city?

Moreover, the enormous cost of an underpass, in a time of declining transportation budgets, means forgoing lots of other, cheaper facilities. Boulder is in the midst of construction of an underpass costing $3-4 million, as part of a larger $7.4 million project. That much money could build a lot of sidewalks, refurbish a lot of bus shelters, plant a lot of street trees.

The better alternatives to grade-separated crossings are traffic-calming, road diets, reconnecting the street grid, allowing full movement at every intersection, and putting sidewalks on every street.

The Town for the Motor Age ushered in underpasses as a transportation tool; Cities for People deprecates them. The contrast is stark, and the conclusion is clear: though underpasses and bridges are nominally for pedestrians and bikes, their design comes out of an auto-oriented Modernist mindset. They are separate, but not equal, and urban design is best served by changing that mindset.