Shortly after writing Why Public Transit Matters, we had our second public participation meeting around London Budget 2013 (#ldnbudget13), with many great speakers around a variety of issues. A common set of themes for many was public transit, active transit, public health, the environment, and how they can all work together.

Photo credit: Wired magazine

I searched online for future strategies and existing examples, and quickly found many. This picture is from a Wired Magazine article on San Francisco’s Caltrain system, which was one of the first to allow bikes on board. The article explains that the idea was so popular with commuters that it soon became unsustainable, because of the demand for bike space outstripped the availability of train cars. Possible solutions include having a bike renting/sharing program, or having additional bike racks at the station for “beater bikes”, one you can leave overnight so it’s waiting for you to get you from the station to work and back. Why is combining rail/bus transit with biking/walking transit so attractive? From the article:

“Transit trips are way up,” Tim Blumenthal, head of the national bike advocacy group Bikes Belong, told “More buses have racks on the front, and more light rail and subways are allowing bicycles on board even during peak hours.” According to Blumenthal, the benefits of bicycle transit trips are huge: commuters lose weight while the air gets cleaner, and highways get less crowded while America starts to recover from its oil addiction.

There are many benefits to both public and active transit, and creating a city that fosters both would help us towards being a sustainable, healthy community. A green strategy report by the City of Vancouver states:

How we move around a city makes a big difference to our quality of life. The air we breathe, the amount of land we need, our physical health and well-being, and the cost of travel are all impacted by our transportation choices. Green transportation includes transit, as well as active transportation like cycling and walking. It is also about the places we see and experiences we have on the way to our destinations.

This report “Walking to Public Transit: Steps to Help Meet Physical Activity Recommendations” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention covers the direct health benefits of taking public transit. It identifies that the Surgeon General recommends at least 30 minutes of physical activity, yet nearly half of Americans don’t meet these guidelines. Many may receive the recommended amount simply by walking to and from public transit, which increases their activity drastically over driving a personal vehicle.

 As well, Toronto has examined the health and financial benefits of encouraging walking and biking in the city in this report, “Road to Health”. As the quote below shows, there are a great deal of human and financial benefits to be considered when building active transportation infrastructure:

Higher levels of physical activity through increased cycling and walking can significantly reduce an individual’s risk of a number of chronic diseases and prevent deaths. Based on very conservative calculations, 2006 levels of walking and cycling in Toronto are estimated to prevent about 120 deaths each year. Total savings from these prevented deaths range from $130 million to $478 million depending on how deaths are valued. Savings in direct medical costs arising from residents staying active by walking and cycling are estimated to provide a further economic benefit of $110 to $160 million.

London as well as communities including KitchenerTorontoVancouver,  and Hamilton are shaping comprehensive strategies for our transportation future. London’s SmartMoves 2030 Transportation Master Plan (full report found here) lays out ambitious goals for lowering London’s reliance on cars and creating a city that is denser, more efficient and easier to move through alternative transportation methods.

Personal vehicles were once a North American symbol of empowerment, opportunity and freedom. However, younger generations are now driving much less than their parents, often foregoing driving a car entirely to embrace public transit, biking and walking. This shift is happening slowly, but this may very well be our transportation future as more and more people look for ways to get around that are healthier, more sustainable and better for the environment.

So what can we do?

London’s SmartMoves project is moving forward. We can follow its progress and advocate for the program. We can also work to change our commuting habits, and tell Council that we are looking for a public transportation system that makes getting around the city affordable, efficient and pleasant. We can follow the LTC and see how the service can be improved/enhanced to better service the London we want to build together. And we can push the city to continue to invest in path and bike lane infrastructure so we and future generations and move through our city effectively without relying on cars.

Thursday February 28, Council will vote on London Budget 2013 (#ldnbudget13), and how our tax dollars will be spent in the year ahead. It is an excellent opportunity to see how Council operates and represents us, hope to see you there!

Next post: Our transit future