Thursday, January 15, 2015

Building walkable, transit-friendly communities makes people healthier

Last week, I was having a debate on Facebook about the benefits of voting “yes” in the upcoming transit plebiscite. The debate derailed, turning to how I would fix the BC healthcare and education systems.

There is a clear link between building walkable, transit-friendly communities, and better health outcomes.

The BC Provincial Health Service Authority has been studying the link between how we build our communities; and physical, mental, and social health for close to a decade. One of their early reports noted that walkable neighbourhoods and pedestrian-friendly streets encourage physical activity and better nutrition. These communities also have less pollution, fewer traffic accidents, and less crime. Public transit encourages physical activity and “achieve[s] the greatest health benefits for low-income individuals.”

Building walkable, transit-friendly communities improves people’s health and reduces crime. This is why I get so disappointed when I see new auto-oriented projects being approved in Langley’s Downtown Core. These projects actually make Langley City less healthy and more prone to crime.

Out of this early work, the Province Health Services Authority developed a “Healthy Built Environment Linkage” toolkit. This toolkit was released in April 2014. The toolkit focuses on Healthy Neighbourhood Design, Healthy Transportation Networks, Healthy Natural Environments, Healthy Food Systems, and Healthy Housing.

Planning Principles for a Healthy Built Environment. Select graphic to enlarge.

Building transit and walkable communities improves the health of individuals which leads to billions of dollars in savings within our healthcare system.

In the next 25 years, BC’s population will grow 31%, while the population over 65 increases more than 100%. As the population ages, prevalence rates of chronic conditions increase. Most of these conditions are uncommon in the young but more prevalent in older adults. For instance, the incidence of respiratory disease is increasing globally. The impact of poor air quality was shown during the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996. A 22% reduction in auto use led to a 42% decrease for asthma admissions to emergency rooms.

Less dependency on private automobiles, better public transit, well designed landscapes, and increased residential density can all lead to improved air quality.

Individuals with multiple, complex health problems use a significant share of all health care resources. People with chronic conditions represent about 34% of the BC population, but they make up approximately 67% of health care costs.

Today, BC’s Health Authorities are experiencing extreme pressure due to increased demand related to chronic diseases. Reducing demand for acute care would release resources for health promotion and illness prevention.

While I’m sure my debater was being tongue-in-cheek about how I would fix the health care system in BC, mayors and councillors have a direct impact on the health outcomes of residents in their community, based on the land-use and transportation decisions they make.

Building walkable communities that are serviced by high-quality transit will make people healthier and lower healthcare costs. It certainly won’t solve all of the complex challenges within our healthcare system, but it will go a long way to creating a more sustainable system.

1 comment:

James Hansen said...

Walkable communities promote health, reduce traffic congestion, increase people's well being, increase wealth of the area, increase desirability of the area, improve children's brain development and adult mental health.

The big question is - why is nobody willing to make any real sacrifices to make sure we start developing with this in mind.