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Benefits of shift from car to active transport

06 March 2012

Leaving the car at home and start bicycling and walking proves to have health and environmental benefits. One recent study estimates these benefits in financial terms.

Though environmental benefits of shift from car to active transport are largely know to the public, yet there is a lack of awareness on the health benefits from the increase physical activity due to a shift.

Health benefit due to physical activity quantified

The most effective way to increase physical activity in our daily life is to shift from car to active transport: bicycling and walking. This would contribute on the one hand to reduce congestion, noise and pollution in our cities, and on the other hand to have a significant health gain for both the individual and the society.

The study "Benefits of Shift from car to Active Transport" conducted within the EU’s TAPAS project (Transportation Air pollution and Physical ActivitieS) estimates the health gain evaluating four effects: 1) the change in exposure to ambient air pollution for the individuals who change their transportation mode, 2) their health benefit, 3) the health benefit for the general population due to reduced pollution, and 4) the risk of accidents. In order to measure these impacts on a common scale, researchers used monetary valuation.

Bicycling and walking scenarios

“For the individual who switches from car to bicycle, the health gain from the increase in physical activity was estimated at €1310/yr, with a lifetime benefit of €52,418. The public health gain of reduced pollution was €33/yr per person,” reads the study. “A substantial personal health benefit was recorded for individuals who change their mode of transport, thanks to the increased physical activity. However, with this comes a slight increase in pollution exposure”. Bicyclists exposure to air pollution is extremely variable with local conditions. A negative value was also calculated for the higher frequency of fatal accidents that occur whilst cycling, however this strongly depends on the local context and existing provision for cycling.

“For the walking scenario, the benefit of physical exercise was estimated at €1192/yr, with a cost of change in air pollution exposure to the individual of -€15/yr”.  The role of physical activity is substantial when people switch from driving to public transportation -reads the study.

Conclusions

The study confirms that the benefits of cycling or walking in terms of the effects of physical activity on the body outweighed by far any possible increase in exposure to pollution. Nevertheless, more should be done to reduce accidents that occur when cycling.

The estimates can be used to help policy makers and urban planners inform active transport projects and policies.

Read more about the TAPAS project's results and find a copy of the study at http://tapas-program.org/

 

Source: Rabl, A., de Nazelle, A. (2011) Benefits of shift from car to active transport.

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