Options Newsletter Autumn 2011
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If you are reading this article, it’s quite likely you’ve already considered that the way you get places affects your health, but there is new scientific evidence that supports this.
People who bike or walk to work are healthier, and those who commute to work the old fashioned way – by car – are more likely to have health worries according to Swedish researchers. The researchers surveyed 21,000 workers, aged 18 to 65, and those who commuted to work by car, and even public transit, reported more everyday stress, exhaustion, missed work and generally poorer health compared to the more active commuters.
Additionally, the longer the commute, the worse the health complaints were for people who relied on transit. The study did not look at or reveal whether commuting by car or transit caused health problems, but learning how to better cope with the stress of commuting could help limit negative health effects.
“We know that people who have a lot of demands and very little control over how they meet those demands are at a higher risk for negative health effects,” said Dr. Redford Williams, professor of medicine and director of Behavioral Medicine Research Center at Duke University. “And when you’re relying on a train to get to work, it’s totally out of your control most of the time.”
Using new and improving technologies offered by more transit agencies could help relieve some of this stress. More information equals more control. Another good way to ameliorate the negative effects of a ‘less-active’ commute on transit would be to get more exercise on your commute by walking one stop further before boarding, and getting off one stop earlier, on your way to and from work. There are also ways to combat stress and take back some of the control if you are a car driver but we’ll leave that article to another time.
“More research needs to be done to identify how exactly commuting is related to the ill health we observed in order to readdress the balance between economic needs [a job], health, and the costs of working days lost.” The study author Erik Hansson from the Lund University in Sweden said in a statement.
The study was published on October 30, in BMC Public Health. BMC Public Health is an open access journal publishing original peer-reviewed research articles in the epidemiology of disease and understanding all aspects of public health. The journal has a special focus on the social determinants of health, the environmental, behavioral, and occupational correlates of health and disease, and the impact of health policies, practices and interventions on the community.
It’s been awhile since we’ve done an article on Car-sharing, but just because Portland is basically the birthplace of car-sharing in the United States doesn’t mean that all Portlanders know about car-sharing. And even if you do know about it, you may not really get why it works and why it makes sense.
Several years ago, the transportation consulting firm Nelson Nygaard prepared a report on car-sharing for the Transit Cooperative Research Program and the Federal Transit Administration. The report focused on where and how car-sharing succeeds but also shed some light on why it works.
As traffic and parking congestion increase and cost of private ownership increases, communities, individuals and families will need to find alternatives to private automobile ownership. An innovative mobility option, car-sharing allows individuals to pay for automobile use on an as-needed basis.
But why do many people believe that car-sharing has the potential, as a transportation demand management tool, to have such a positive and long-term affect on our cities and our transportation network? It’s because car-sharing has the potential to really change our relationship to cars.
Members report using car-sharing for a variety of trips, but rarely for their daily commute. The Nelson Nygaard report shows that car-sharing is used sparingly and most often when members have multiple things or large items to carry, need a car to get to their destination, or need to make multiple stops. According to the report, the median number of car-share trips per month is just two.
Sometimes called the “missing link” in the range of transportation alternatives, car-sharing allows members to use transit, cycling and walking for most of their daily trips while still having access to a car when needed. By providing access to a vehicle for occasional trips, car-sharing enables households to give up their car or a second or third car. On average, about 20 percent of car-share members do this, with even more members forgoing the purchase of a new car altogether. This translates to at least five private vehicles being replaced by each shared car.
So far, car-sharing has shown most success in densely populated areas and even then, only as a complement to other alternatives to the private automobile. It only makes sense as part of a wider transportation package. But most importantly, car-sharing completely changes the economics of driving, by converting fixed costs into usage fees. When households own a car, each additional trip is perceived to cost very little since the investment in car payments, insurance and taxes have already been made. With car-sharing, the costs are directly proportional to the amount the members drive – providing a strong financial incentive to drive less.
Transportation Options has been doing Individualized Social Marketing programs for a total of 9 years now, and our specifically branded SmartTrips Residential program for 5 years. And while our SmartTrips residential newsletter is just one small piece of the intricately layered communications puzzle, it is still a central piece for keeping in touch with our interested residents.
This year we included a regular essay series to increase participation from residents and let them shape more of our transportation messages. The essay series solicited ideas, dreams, and visions from residents about transportation in general, and the specifics of walking, biking and taking transit, and what it all means to them.
I for one was kind of blown away by the responses we got, especially for the essays on walking! We received seventeen individual essays about the ways SmartTrips N-NE residents are working to increase walking into their own lives. What I read from these essays, is that many of the ideas we’ve gathered from our research and experience can and actually does work for people who make a commitment to a real lifestyle change, and that residents have also come up with some very fun and creative ways that are new to us.
The interest in the walking essay in particular, tells me that there is a lot of interest out there in walking as a tool for healthy living, and that there is a desire to share thoughts and information with a broader community of other people who embrace the walking lifestyle. Options already has several communities with blogs or facebook pages where folks can pick up and share ideas, trends and personal stories about bicycling, and commuting in general, but we don’t have anything specific to walkers. Maybe it is time for a dedicated outlet for walkers and people who love walking!
Oregon and our region have a few new trip planning tools to check out. The State of Oregon and Drive Less Save More recently unveiled the new and improved Drive Less Connect, and TriMet tested a new multi-modal trip planning tool in beta form.
Drive Less Connect allows users to match up carpools through work and community networks, use their facebook and twitter accounts, set up and manage carpools for kids, find a bike buddy to ride along with you, track savings and earn rewards. There is even a mobile app due out soon. All the information you provide is kept private and you control how personal information is shared. Find out more at DriveLessSaveMore.com or DriveLessSaveMore.icarpool.com.
TriMet also recently tested a new multi-modal trip planner called OpenTripPlanner. This new tool will allow users to change and customize the mode of transportation you want to use or combine. Say you want to plan a trip combining a bike trip with a side trip on transit, now you don’t have to go to different trip planning sites, you can do it all on one. You can also customize your trip plan to avoid biking up hills, reduce travel time or wait time between connections; you can even choose a mix of speed and elevation. No word on when the new trip planner will be ready for prime time but be sure to check in with TriMet.org often for the latest.