Active Transportation Needs a Federal Champion

Twitter Cycling 2*Reprinted with permission of The Hill Times 

Prepared by Kim Perrotta and Judi Varga-Toth, December 11th, 2017

Canada needs a federal champion for active modes of transportation such as cycling and walking.   At present, no federal minister has been assigned responsibility for supporting active transportation in this country.  Mandate letters, used to set priorities for federal ministers, make no mention of active transportation.  This is a problem for so many reasons!

Active transportation is good for health!  Chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases, and diabetes affect one in five Canadians and are the cause of 65% of all deaths in Canada.  They cost Canadians about $200 billion per year in lost-time and health care costs.  And the rate of chronic diseases is rising rapidly; by about 14% per year.

Physical inactivity is one of the leading risk factors for chronic diseases.  Today, only one in five Canadian adults and one in ten Canadian children get the levels of physical activity needed to maintain good health.  Active transportation is an effective way to increase levels of physical activity because it allows people who have little free time to accomplish two tasks at one time.  They can “get exercise” while commuting to work or school.

People who walk or cycle to work live longer, healthier lives.  A five-year study conducted in the UK found that people who walk to work reduce their risk of dying prematurely from cardiovascular disease by 36%.  It found that people who cycle to work reduce their risk of dying prematurely from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all causes by 40 to 46%.   There is no drug in the world that can deliver that kind of health benefit!

Active transportation reduces emissions of air pollutants.  Air pollution kills tens of thousands of Canadians each year.  In cities, vehicles are often the most significant source of air pollution.  In Toronto, for example, it is estimated that  440 people will die prematurely and 1,700 people will be hospitalized each year because of traffic-related air pollution.   By encouraging people to replace short car trips with walking and cycling trips, we can reduce air pollution, and the heart and lung diseases, hospital admissions, and early deaths related to it.

Active transportation reduces greenhouse gases (GHGs) that contribute to climate change.  Climate change has been declared the most significant public health threat of the 21st century by the World Health Organization.  This summer, 45,000 Canadians were evacuated from their homes by wildfires that have grown in frequency and intensity because of higher temperatures and longer droughts related to climate change.  Active transportation can reduce GHGs by reducing the number of vehicles on the road.   One study estimated that GHGs from vehicles in San Francisco could be reduced by 14% if people in the community increased the number of minutes spent walking and cycling for shorter trips from 4.5 to 22 minutes per day.

Investing in active transportation will produce many other co-benefits.  It can reduce sedentary behaviour and obesity in children.  It will reduce traffic injuries and deaths among pedestrians and cyclists.  It can increase social equity by making it easier for women, teenagers, seniors, and people who live on low incomes, to access jobs and services. It can boost the economy by promoting tourism and local retailers.  It can reduce traffic congestion.  It can reduce health care costs!!

There are many things that federal government could and should do to foster active transportation in Canada.  It should: share gas tax transfers for active mobility; identify a modal share goal for Canada; create a dedicated active transportation infrastructure fund; and invest in cycling tourism; mandate side guards on large trucks; direct Statistics Canada to improve the data collected on cycling; incent the use of e-bikes; address unfair import duties affecting our bicycle industry; invest in cycling infrastructure for our national parks; ensure that the Trans Canada Trail and other trails are safe for cycling and walking.

The federal government has already recognized its role in protecting vulnerable road users. It must now step up and inspire Canadians to make our communities, large and small, places where people of all ages and abilities can get around actively on a daily basis.  We need a federal champion!

Take action!

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A National Active Transportation Strategy can Reduce Chronic Diseases & Health Care Costs

Prepared by Kim Perrotta, MHSc, Executive Director, CAPE

Eight national health organizations have sent a letter to the Federal Minister of Health asking her to invest in the development of a National Active Transportation StrategySignatories to the joint letter include Heart & Stroke, Diabetes Canada, Canadian Cancer Society, The Canadian Lung Association, Asthma Canada, the Alzheimer Society of Canada, Upstream, and CAPE.

The joint letter outlines a powerful public health and financial case for active transportation. Chronic diseases consume 67 per cent of the health care budget in Canada. These diseases cost Canadians $190 billion annually: about $65 billion in treatment and $135 billion in lost productivity.  Further, chronic disease rates are increasing rapidly, by about 14 per cent a year.  As a result, health care costs threaten to overwhelm provincial budgets across the country.

Fortunately, active transportation can help stem the tide. Physical activity reduces the risk of over 25 chronic health conditions, including coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, breast cancer, colon cancer, Type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis.  It also benefits mental health and arthritis.  Unfortunately, fewer than one in five Canadian adults get the 150 minutes of physical activity needed to achieve health benefits and fewer than one in 10 Canadian children get the 60 minutes a day of physical activity needed for healthy growth and development.  Changes to the built environment and other measures can increase physical activity, significantly reducing chronic diseases and their costs. One study found that the risk of premature death from all causes can be decreased by 28 per cent among people who cycle three hours per week and by 22 per cent among people who walk 29 minutes per day, seven days a week.

Increased walking and cycling can also reduce air pollution and its associated health impacts by replacing short car trips.  Investments in active transportation and public transit can also increase access to jobs, services, and recreational opportunities among those who are unable to drive or cannot afford a car.  Changes such as speed reductions, separated bike lanes, and improved pedestrian crossings can also significantly reduce vehicle-related injuries and deaths among pedestrians and cyclists while also encouraging greater levels of physical activity.

A national alliance of active transportation organizations, including Green Communities Canada (Canada Walks), Canada Bikes, and the National ASRTS Working Group, have offered to lead the development of a National Active Transportation Strategy. This coalition would identify infrastructure funding and policies, design standards to be implemented, and support on-going partnerships and community action.

While the Federal Government has announced significant investments in public transit, green infrastructure, and transportation systems, without a National Active Transportation Strategy, we fear that we will miss the opportunity to maximize the health benefits that could result from these federal investments.

Let your Federal Member of Parliament know that you support the development of a National Active Transportation Strategy by emailing your MP today (Federal MP contact list).

Link to English and French versions of the Letter.

 

A National Cycling Strategy: A Triple Win for Public Health

Prepared by Kim Perrotta, MHSC, Executive Director, CAPE, June 2017

On June 1, 2017, CAPE participated in the National Bike Summit organized by Canada Bikes where we declared our support for the development of a National Cycling Strategy. Here is why.

A National Cycling Strategy would be a triple win for public health. It would help us to reduce the rate of chronic diseases in Canada. Chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease are escalating at alarming rates across the country. They place a heavy burden on the health care system while also producing pain, disability, and premature deaths for hundreds of thousands of Canadians each year. For example, cardiovascular disease alone costs $12 billion each year in Canada.

Physical activity is one of the most effective “treatments” for chronic diseases. We know that one hour of moderate to vigorous activity per week can reduce the risk of premature death by 4 to 9%. And yet, most Canadian do not get the 2.5 hours of physical activity required to maintain good health. Time—or the lack of it—has been identified as the number one barrier to physical activity.

Active modes of transportation—such as cycling—overcome this barrier. They allow people to get the “exercise” they need while travelling to work or school. One study found that people who cycle or walk to work reduce their risk of developing a chronic disease by 11%. But we know that most people, particularly women and children, will not ride to school or work unless cycling routes feel safe. Experience in other jurisdictions has demonstrated that many people will cycle for travel if they have protected bike lanes that look and feel safe.

A National Cycling Strategy would reduce acute and chronic health impacts associated with air pollution. In 2008, the CMA estimated that air pollution produces 21,000 premature deaths each year in Canada. We know these deaths are the tip of the iceberg. They represent a broad array of adverse health impacts including lung cancer, asthma, stroke, and heart disease. The CMA estimated that air pollution costs Canadians $10 billion per year in direct health care costs and lost time, and that was based on a limited number of health impacts for which the evidence was the strongest.

The transportation sector is one of the most significant sources of air pollution in Canada, particularly in large urban centres and along major traffic corridors. Modelling studies have demonstrated that we can significantly reduce air pollution, adverse health impacts, and health care costs by getting residents to use their bikes, instead of their cars, for short trips.

A National Cycling Strategy would also reduce greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. The World Health Organization (WHO) has called climate change the most significant public health threat of the 21st century. It has estimated that 250,000 people will die prematurely each year by 2030 from climate change unless dramatic action is taken to significantly reduce our carbon emissions. Climate change is already claiming the lives of tens of thousands of people each year from heat stress, diarrhea, malaria, and malnutrition. Many of the victims are children and the elderly living in some of the poorest countries in the world. While Canadians will not experience the worst of these impacts, we are not be immune to the impacts of climate change.

Already, in Canada, we are experiencing health impacts from wild fires, floods droughts, heat waves, and severe storms that are increasing in frequency and intensity; from insect-borne diseases such as West Nile Virus and Lyme Disease that are spreading as the climate warms; and from injuries and deaths resulting from melting permafrost and shifting snow cover. The transportation sector in Canada is responsible for about one quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions. Modelling studies have demonstrated that we can significantly reduce these emissions by getting people to replace short car trips with bike trips.

A National Cycling Strategy is the holy grail of public health; the public policy the serves many public health goals with one investment. It is an investment that will pay for itself many times over in health care savings alone.

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