Two Birds One Stone: Sustainable Public Transport As A Catalyst For Improved Health & Wellbeing
On the lecture
The fifth lecture, by Alan Wann, introduced the paradigm of sustainable transport, discussing the evolution of urban sustainability, attitudes towards urban mobility in major European countries, precedent countries for good public transport, solutions etc.
It used to be that the term “sustainability” was but a concept used to describe only using natural resources, however, today we are reaching ever closer to the environmental endgame. According to Our Common Future, sustainable development is defined as ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’ (Jarvie, 2016). One area for improvement is transportation, the largest sector in the UK since 2016 and responsible for producing 24% of the UK’s total emissions in 2020, 91% of which derives from domestic transport from road vehicles and the biggest contributors being the automobile, amounting to 52% of the emissions from domestic transport (GOV.UK, n.d.).
Figure 1: Greenhouse gas emissions by sector, 2020, by proportion
Research in transport has always been focused on factors like length of journey or access, however, the truth is travel is inevitable regardless of one’s mode of choice. Apart from facilitating access to services and other opportunities, transport has also played a significant role in supporting or even hindering social connections, in turn, influencing health (Cooper et al., 2019).
Sustainable Transport vs Sustainable Transportation System
Sustainable transport, sometimes known as “green transport” is ‘any form of transport that does not use or rely on dwindling natural resources. Instead it relies on renewable or regenerated energy rather than fossil fuels that have a finite life expectancy. For this reason it is said to have a low or a negative effect on the environment since it makes use of energy sources that are sustainable.’ (earthtimes.org, n.d.) A “sustainable transportation system” on the other hand, according to the European Union Council of Ministers of Transport (EUCMT), define it as one that ‘allows the basic access and development needs of individuals, companies and society to be met safely and in a manner consistent with human and ecosystem health, and promotes equity within and between successive generations.’ (European Commission – European Commission, 2020).
The link between transport and health
Figure 2: Positive impacts on health through sustainable public transport
The UK is currently facing a myriad of health-related issues, including obesity, diabetes and heart disease, conditions linked to physical inactivity. Transport playsa key role in providing access to health services like GP surgeries, hospitals and more, services that are particularly important for medical practitioners, elderly ordisabled people who live in rural areas, as public transport might be their only link. As a result of increased demand for the automobile, primarily likened for its convenience and efficiency, wellbeing has also seen a severe decline especially in the UK. It allows people to connect and maintain relationships.
Bridging the gap between the automobile and pedestrian
Figure 3: Florence (left) and an Atlanta interchange (right) at the same scale
It is clear that the rise of the automobile has taken away what it means to have a healthy lifestyle and countries across the world have seen a surge in demand. As this article has thus far discussed ways in which transport can directly impact health and wellbeing, simply concluding that introducing sustainable alternatives to the antagonist of this narrative, the automobile, is far too simple. Though EV cars are a proven solution, it is a short term one and there is still much to consider during the manufacture and lifecycle like raw materials and electricity. The automobile can no doubt offer great convenience and mobility, but can impede upon the mobility of others by marginalizing road users and discouraging walking or cycling simply due to the way the built environment is designed to favour cars.
The right planning approach can encourage a shift towards a wider range of transportation modes that can contribute to a sustainable transportation system. Transport interventions therefore have the potential to mitigate health problems borne of physical inactivity, and in turn reduce health declination, including:
•Integrating more walking and cycling facilities. the UK aims to make cycling and walking the natural first choice for a typical journey with half of all journeys in towns and cities being cycled or walked by 2030 (GOV.UK, n.d.).
•Legislation, another intervention that the UK has taken a stride into, aiming to end its contribution to climate change as the Prime Minister, Transport Secretary and Business Secretary announced the end of the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030.
•Social/behavioural actions have in the past proven that the power in the people can be effective. The Netherlands for example invested heavily in the provision of cycling facilities due to an increase in accidents to cyclists following from a huge growth in the use of the automobile.
Having read much of the discourse in sustainable transport, I have realized that perhaps laziness and lack of initiative is the root of many issues. We require a third party to pave the way for us so that access to essential facilities is convenient. This might be achievable in some cities due to having a pre-existing dense urban fabric, however, for cities that don’t have this, it is difficult. It can be argued that placing more buildings in unoccupied spaces could solve this, but this is counterproductive seeing as buildings use 40% of global energy, essentially taking two steps backwards to make one step forward.
Cooper, E., Gates, S., Grollman, C., Mayer, M., Davis, B. and Bankiewicz, U. (2019). Transport, health, and wellbeing: An evidence review for the Department for Transport Prepared for: Department for Transport Prepared for: The Department for Transport. [online] Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/847884/Transport__health_and_wellbeing.pdf.
earthtimes.org. (n.d.). Sustainable Transport | The Earth Times | Encyclopaedia. [online] Available at: https://earthtimes.org/encyclopaedia/environmental-issues/sustainable-transport/ [Accessed 10 Nov. 2022].
European Commission – European Commission. (2020). Press corner. [online] Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/PRES_01_131.
GOV.UK. (n.d.). The second cycling and walking investment strategy (CWIS2). [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-second-cycling-and-walking-investment-strategy/the-second-cycling-and-walking-investment-strategy-cwis2.
GOV.UK. (n.d.). Transport and environment statistics 2022. [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/transport-and-environment-statistics-2022/transport-and-environment-statistics-2022.
Jarvie, M.E. (2016). Brundtland Report | publication by World Commission on Environment and Development. In: Encyclopædia Britannica. [online] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Brundtland-Report.
Mihaylova, N. (2021). How transport offers a route to better health | The Health Foundation. [online] www.health.org.uk. Available at: https://www.health.org.uk/publications/long-reads/how-transport-offers-a-route-to-better-health.
Congratulations on a very well written article on sustainable transport and well-being! Indeed, transport is playing a significant role in the kind of lifestyles we have as a society whereby an ecological transportation network can enhance healthy ones and therefore ensure a high quality of life. Particularly, I’d like to expand on the link between cars and pollution (air and water) that contributes to poor health lifestyles of individuals.
Firstly, air pollution releases toxic substances into the environment that are dangerous to human health. I agree with your observation on the impact of automobiles on the healthy lifestyles. In the UK, cars account for a high number of resident fumes in cities and on commonly used streets (defra 2007). Vehicles emit carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and particulate matter into the air that can cause respiratory diseases and cancer. In 2007, based on the UK Air quality strategy, strict measures put in place by UK and European regulations on fuel and ‘vehicle emission’ criterion led to a general reduction of vital air contaminants emissions by half in the previous ten years notwithstanding rises in road jam (defra 2007). Therefore, placing such guidelines can enhance the reduction of air impurities emitted by motor vehicles thus improving air quality in the environment.
Secondly, water pollution is known to happen when dangerous materials enter water bodies such as rivers and streams. Running motor vehicles contributes significantly to groundwater contamination (Nixon et al. 2007). Substances found in oils, lubricants, etc are eroded into neighbouring streams from street surfaces when it rains. It is known that some contaminants such as triphenyl phosphate found in these liquids may alter the normal functioning of fish (Technology Networks 2022). These may then cause diseases when consumed by people. However, proper maintenance of motor vehicles may help reduce the amount of water pollution (Technology Networks 2022).
Therefore, beyond the traditionally known advice of prioritizing walking and cycling over reliance on cars, improving car emissions regulations and ensuring good motor vehicle maintenance discipline can mitigate the contribution of motor vehicles to poor health lifestyles of individuals and in this case can also make a good case for the sustainable transport system.
Nixon, Hilary Saphores, Jean-Daniel M (2007), Impacts of motor vehicle operation on water quality: Clean-up Costs and Policies. Available at: https://escholarship.org/content/qt8tn1w17s/qt8tn1w17s.pdf?t=lnq4xr
[Accessed 07 January 2023]
Technology networks (2022), Road traffic could be a major source of water pollution. Available at: https://www.technologynetworks.com/applied-sciences/news/road-traffic-could-be-a-major-source-of-water-pollution-359632 [Accessed 07 January 2023]
defra (2007), The Air Quality Strategy for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/69336/pb12654-air-quality-strategy-vol1-070712.pdf [Accessed 07 January 2023]
NRDC (2022), Water Pollution: Everything you need to know. Available at: https://www.nrdc.org/stories/water-pollution-everything-you-need-know [Accessed 07 January 2023