Bay Area Increases Walking and Bicycling – and Research Shows We’ll Reap Health Benefits

Marty MartinezNew data released from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the Bay Area’s Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), shows that rates of bicycling and walking have increased throughout the region.  

The increase was 14 percent from 2010-2012. The breakdown included an increase of 10 percent in pedestrian trips throughout the region, and of a whopping increase of 37 percent in bicycle trips throughout the region.

The counties that exhibited the greatest increase were Marin, where there was a gigantic 69 percent increase in bicycle and pedestrian trips from 2010-2012; Solano and Contra Costa, with a 37 percent and 36 percent increase respectively; and San Mateo (29 percent), Alameda (24 percent), and Sonoma (22%).

Increased bicycle and pedestrian trips help the region meet climate change goals under California’s SB 375, which requires MPOs to set regional goals to meet Greenhouse Gas Emissions. In addition, there are obvious health benefits to increased physical activity. A recent Bay Area study shows very clearly the relationship between taking action to achieve climate change goals, increasing emphasis on active transportation, physical activity and health improvements.

On our last Bay Health in Transportation Collaborative call, Sean Co, a planner for active transportation with MTC, presented on recent research titled “Health Co-benefits and Transportation-Related Reductions in Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the San Francisco Bay Area.” The study looks at how ongoing efforts in the Bay Area to reduce reliance on automobiles might produce beneficial side effects for the region’s public health. By relying more on their own two legs and less on four-wheeled vehicles, Bay Area residents would see measurable reductions in chronic conditions like obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes — as well as a reduction in premature deaths. Almost all of the public health benefits (99 percent) are attributable to increased physical activity levels rather than to decreased air pollution (http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/full/10.2105/AJPH.2012.300939).

Though the linkages are indirect, this study helps demonstrate that investments in active transportation will have benefits to the health of the community through multiple, self-reinforcing pathways. Efforts to address climate change in California and the Bay Area will result in cleaner, healthier air and greater health benefits from increased physical activity. Research like this is very important to point to in order to advance advocacy. I’m glad our regional MPO was involved! 

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