The active transportation alternative: 10 great benefits

By Jamie Morris

So, if we can agree that, as argued in an earlier column, Lindsay is a car-first community, what would be the benefits to us as individuals and as a community of giving pedestrians and cyclists priority — of promoting “active transportation?”

Here are 10 benefits to consider, beginning with health and the environment then moving on to economic and social benefits (the four areas covered by City of Kawartha Lakes Director of Development Services Chris Marshall in a presentation to Council on active transportation– which you can access here).

  1. The health benefits of physical activity are indisputable. If you’re not among the 5.5 million who’ve viewed Dr. Mike Evans’ YouTube visual lecture  23 and ½ hours: What is the single best thing we can do for our health?  take a few minutes to watch it now. When you do you’ll see that  Evans, Associate Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at U of T and staff physician at St. Michael’s Hospital, answers his question with this prescription: Exercise, mostly walking, for a minimum of half an hour a day. He reviews the medical research and shows the effectiveness of just that much  physical activity as a preventative measure for a long catalogue of health problems including arthritis, anxiety, some cancers, dementia, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease. Most important to him? Being active contributes to overall quality of life.
  2. Activity such as getting around on foot or cycle is especially important for children and youth. Public Health Ontario reports that nearly a third of children and youth are overweight or obese and StatsCan reports that two-thirds fail to meet the physical activity recommendation of 60 minutes a day. By any measure, way too much time is spent sitting in front of screens.
  3. As the Union of Concerned Scientists points out, “Our personal vehicles are a major cause of global warming. Collectively, cars and trucks account for nearly one-fifth of all US emissions, emitting around 24 pounds of carbon dioxide and other global-warming gases for every gallon of gas.”  Each time we walk or cycle instead of driving we are making a small difference.
  4. Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki’s book Cool It discusses oily runoff from roads that winds up in our water systems, and points to one other environmental impact of cars: much green space is sacrificed for all the infrastructure required for car lots, roads and parking spaces.  For walking, a shoe-rack or boot-tray is all that’s needed, and as Mike Gorman of Spokes for Folks points out, parking for bikes takes up little space. In Millbrook, the BIA put in a parking spot for bikes. Mike has seen a photo with 30 bikes in that spot (and no cars on the street, a fact that gladdens his heart).  
  5. Buying a car or truck  is expensive. The average transaction price of new vehicle reached $33,464 in Canada in 2017, up 3.2 per cent from $32,430 in the previous year. The average truck transaction price was $37,345, up 2.4 per cent, while passenger cars averaged $25,110, up 0.9 per cent. Seven hundred dollars will get you a high-quality comfort, city, or hybrid bike from bike specialists such as Cambray’s Spokes for Folks or Down to Earth in Lindsay. That will include all the bells (literally) and whistles (mud-guards, chain-guard, carriers, light, etc.) for tooling around town. You can pay much less of course (check your Canadian Tire catalogue). A decent pair of walking shoes are even less.
  6. Vehicles require lots of maintenance and depreciate steadily. According to CAA figures for 2017, the average yearly cost of vehicle ownership was $8600 for a compact car, $12,000 for an SUV and $13,000 for a pick-up truck. An annual bike  tune-up at, say, Down to Earth,  will set you back $50.
  7. Then there are roadways.  The cost of building and maintaining roads for tax-payers is significantly greater than costs for bike lanes or sidewalks. In Marshall’s presentation to Council he estimated that car networks are roughly nine times as expensive as active transportation networks to build. Wear and tear on bike-lanes is a tiny fraction of what roadways need to withstand.
  8. There’s also the benefit  to a community’s economy. Marshall has pointed out that cycling tourists spend 53% more than auto tourist. The average non-cycling tourist in the City of Kawartha Lakes spends $83 per day while the average cycling tourist spends $127.00 per day.
  9. Figures on the  overall costs to society — factoring in costs to the healthcare system as well as infrastructure costs — show the value of leaving your car at home and using a bike whenever possible.  An oft-quoted economic analysis quantified the costs: every kilometre driven in a car costs society 89 cents. Every kilometre driven on a bike saves 26 cents.
  10. Finally, there are social benefits of walking or cycling rather than driving. If you drive the town encased in a car’s metal carapace you’re not making any connections.  On foot or on bike you encounter neighbours and see our community in a new way and at a more relaxed pace.

Coming Next:   No question, for most of us cars are a necessity. And with winter’s icy sidewalks and messy roadways looming, this is a hard time of year to be making a pitch for active transportation (though many do get around on foot year round and both of the local specialty bike shops sell “fat bikes” with four to five inch diameter tires designed for winter travel. But what has already been done and what could be done to shift the balance — to reduce car travel and increase walking and cycling in the community? That will be the subject of the final installment in this series.


1 Comment

  1. Avatar photo Ginny Colling says:

    A great overview of what we can gain by having a solid active transportation system in place. It makes a lot of cent$.

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