Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Safe (and healthy) travels

On the last day of the meeting, while everyone’s preparing to head home by plane, train or automobile, this blogger went to one final session — on the topic of healthy transportation policies.

Interestingly, injury prevention advocates are starting to advocate the same type of measures that environmentalists and active transport proponents have been preaching: better land-use planning, mixed-use design and public transportation. It’s not just about making the roads safe with safer cars and responsible drivers, it’s about getting more people off the roads altogether.

“We need to break down silos, even within the health field,” said session presenter Janani Srikantharajah of the Prevention Institute.

Injuries are not “accidents,” Srikantharajah said, and they can be prevented. While the nation is justifiably outraged at the estimated 45,000 annual U.S. deaths attributable to lack of insurance coverage, they should also be outraged by the 41,000 annual deaths caused by traffic crashes, she said. The financial toll of traffic injuries is staggering as well, at $230 billion or about 2.3 percent of our GDP.

We need to work together, speak the language of planners, and start spouting phrases like "complete streets," "multimodalism," "context sensitive design" and "smart growth," said Todd Litman of the Victoria Transportation Policy Initiative in Canada.

Litman said transportation is a public good that should be about all its users, not just drivers. It’s about social justice and goes beyond affordable transportation to encompass affordable housing in walkable neighborhoods, “urban villages” with schools, parks and grocery stores.

Other session speakers talked about efforts to reduce driving on college campuses and create healthier food environments with the help of smart transportation policies. For more on how healthy food and transportation policies intersect, here's a similar presentation from one of today’s speakers, Kami Pothukuchi of Wayne State University.

And for more on healthy transportation policies, check out the new report put together by Policy Link, the Prevention Institute and the Convergence Partnership: “The Transportation Prescription: Bold New Ideas for Healthy Equitable Transportation in America.”

Safe travels everyone!

— P.T.

Image by Diego Bervejillo, courtesy iStockphoto

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