Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Hidden Health Costs of Transportation

When most people discuss the costs of various modes of transportation, they are usually referring to the direct costs of building and maintaining a facility such as a road, highway, or parking structure. There are many indirect costs, known to economists as "negative externalities." These are all the indirect costs associated with driving such as air and water pollution and the effects on public health, an environment built for cars at the expense of walking and biking, and deaths and injuries from car crashes.

A new report, The Hidden Health Costs Of Transportation, recently released by the American Public Health Association, outlines some of those hidden costs:
The combustion engine and the creation of the highway system increased mobility and access to goods and services.However, investments in highways have come at the expense of other transportation modes.Over the years this has led to a heavier reliance on vehicles and roadways and less on walking, bicycling and transit use. Further, suburban development has resulted in communities that are away from town centers and public transit and require a near-total reliance on the automobile for transport and access.

Our dependence on automobiles and roadways has profound negative impacts on human health: decreased opportunities for physical activity, and increased exposure to air pollution, and the number of traffic crashes. The health costs associated with these impacts, including costs associated with loss of work days and wages, pain and suffering, and premature death,may be as high as several hundred billion dollars. (emphasis added)
Recommendations included:
  1. A considerable increase in transportation investments is needed to offer more balanced and affordable
    modes of transport including biking,walking and public transit.
  2. Federal planning and funding practices need to more fully account for impacts, costs and benefits to health, throughout the planning and decision-making processes.
  3. A national set of health-related policy objectives needs to be part of the criteria for federal transportation funding decisions.
  4. Research funding should be allocated to document the health costs of transportation investments and
    develop and apply evidence-based tools that account for the health impacts of such investments.

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