There has been a shift towards creating a healthier L.A. in recent years, sparked by a desire to reconnect with our urban fabric and interact with those who contribute to our diverse city. A healthy transportation system complements a healthy city by allowing people to make more environmentally sustainable and physically beneficial transportation choices. To do that, other options like walking, biking, and transit have to be seen as a safe, attractive, and convenient mode choice. With active modes of transportation on the rise in L.A. and across the United States, the public health lens must be taken into account when planning the future of transportation in this city.
The City of Los Angeles is finalizing its Mobility Plan 2035, a visionary roadmap that attempts to rebalance the city's transportation network to give all users the opportunity to navigate the city safely and efficiently. The plan calls for a network of streets that gives people the option to walk, bike, take transit or drive, to give people alternatives to driving in traffic. Most importantly, the plan emphasizes safety and public health by working toward a world-class transportation network that aims to reduce vehicle collisions and moves Los Angeles toward becoming a greener, more sustainable city.
Transportation is implicated in the health of both human beings and natural systems. Mobility directly impacts human health and wellness, both physical and mental. Active transportation modes such as bicycling and walking can significantly improve personal fitness and create new opportunities for social interaction, while lessening impacts on the environment. Opting to take just one trip during your week using a healthier mode of travel would see positive effects for our environment and our health when compounded by the amount of people living in our region over a long period of time.
The transportation sector is by far the largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the largest consumer of energy. Transportation is also among the most significant sources of air, water, and noise pollution in the urban environment.
Despite significant improvements in the last several decades, the Los Angeles region continues to suffer from the worst air quality in America. Los Angeles residents are at greater risk for asthma attacks, heart attacks and premature deaths due to air pollution. The Los Angeles Basin is uniquely predisposed to poor air quality, as atmospheric inversions and the surrounding mountain ranges trap air pollutants.
Researchers estimate that air pollution is responsible for more than 7,500 premature deaths per year in the Los Angeles metro area, of which more than 2,000 can be attributed to vehicle emissions alone. 1 Statewide, vehicle emissions result in more than twice as many premature deaths as car crashes. The economic impact of this public health burden is estimated at $22 billion per year in the South Coast Air Basin (in lost days at work, lost days at school, health care, and premature death). 2
In 2010, transportation accounted for more than 34% of California's greenhouse gas emissions, the largest by far of any sector. 80% of the transportation-related emissions come from passenger vehicles, equivalent to 160 million tons of carbon dioxide per year.
The world's best transportation systems are the most seamless; they offer a variety of connections to our destinations. The world's best transportation systems around the globe also seem to have the most activity built in. Walking to transit or biking adds a fitness element to an everyday routine. Giving people the option to make a healthy life choice by putting as much thought and investment into making walking, biking, and transit a viable option is key to improving the health of the City and the people who live here.
A 2004 analysis found that each additional hour spent in a car per day was associated with a six percent increase in the likelihood of obesity. 3 Long commutes can also take a toll on mental health - each hour spent alone in a car is an hour not spent interacting with others.
Furthermore, vehicle collisions represent a huge risk for injury or death in Los Angeles, particularly for people who walk or ride bikes. In 2010, pedestrians and cyclists represented over half of the city's traffic fatalities, underscoring the need to ensure the safety of all users.
The Ciy's Transportation Plan is in the process of being updated right now. Mobility Plan 2035 lays out a roadmap to a healthier transportation system, by providing a new policy foundation to encourage sustainability in our transportation decisions that affect our everyday lives. The long term goal is to create a balanced transportation system that is equitable and promotes health for all Angelenos.
Key aspects of the plan include:
- Laying the foundation for a network of Complete Streets that give safe access to all users, such as pedestrians (especially for vulnerable users such as children, seniors and the disabled), bicyclists, transit riders, and car and truck drivers.
- Consider the strong link between land use, transportation, and health when making transportation decision, and elevating health and safety as a goal.
- Promoting "first mile-last mile" connections to public transit to make it easier for people to take advantage of the region's growing transportation network.
- Expanding the role of the street as a "public place" and community asset, which includes efforts like CicLAvia and the Mayor's recently launched Great Streets program.
The Mobility Plan 2035 will shape the future of the transportation decisions and investments we make, and it's vision is to create a complete transportation network that gives safe and efficient alternatives so that people can live, work and play in our city. The city's transportation network is the backbone of its economic vitality. With a focus on public health and sustainability, the Mobility Plan 2035 will put Los Angeles on the path toward a more vibrant Los Angeles.
Follow Mobility Plan 2035 at la2b.org
1Caiazzo, Fabio, et al. "Air pollution and early deaths in the United States. Part I: Quantifying the impact of major sectors in 2005." Atmospheric Environment (2013).
2 Vision LA, 3
3 SCAG 2012 RTP-SCS, 30