Study: Better Health if LA Ends Love Affair With Cars

LOS ANGELES (CN) – The choice by Los Angeles commuters to ditch their beloved cars and instead hop on public transit would decrease their risks of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, according to a health impact study released Thursday by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

The study analyzed the public health impact of Mobility Plan 2035, LA’s long-term vision to direct transportation planning efforts toward increased public transit options.

Full implementation of the plan, which was adopted in 2016, would reduce between 2,000 and 4,600 cases of cardiovascular disease per year and save over $160 million per year in health costs, according to the study.

“Public transportation and active transit options are lifelines for communities who rely on them for daily living, including getting to and from school, work, and even the grocery store,” said Barbara Ferrer, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

The implementation of the LA City Mobility Plan 2035 offers an opportunity to address longstanding underinvestment in transportation as well as disproportionate exposure to pollutants in low-income communities and communities of color, Ferrer said.

Elected officials in Los Angeles should financially support policies, projects, and programs that increase travel via walking and cycling, according to the study.

Researchers analyzed scenarios of daily miles traveled by commuters on foot, bikes, trains, buses and in their cars.

In 2035, without the implementation of the plan, LA residents are projected to travel 1.89 miles per day by public transit. With the plan, that figure increases to 5.46 miles per day, the study found.

If more commuters walk or ride their bikes rather than drive, 3.5 percent of annual deaths from cardiovascular disease and diabetes would be prevented, according to the study.

A public embrace of non-auto transportation methods would remove more cars from increasingly clogged roadways and highways, resulting in decreases in death and disability from air pollution-related diseases, the study found.

In three scenarios of the study where the plan is not implemented, serious injuries and deaths resulting from traffic collisions increased.

The auto-centric approach to city planning has dominated LA for over a century and will not be easy to reverse. Angelenos in particular have long associated driving with personal freedom and convenience.

City planners, backed by federal subsidies for road and highway construction, developed infrastructure that facilitated the transition of commuters off of public buses and trains and into driver seats.

For some commuters, driving is often the only viable option due to the long distance between work and home. As the cost of living in Los Angeles surges, more residents look for affordable housing in communities farther away from the city.

There are signs, however, LA residents are already pushing back against auto-centric transportation planning.

In November 2016, LA County residents voted to tax themselves in order to expand public transit. The approval of Measure M, a half-cent sales tax, will generate approximately $860 million per year for public transportation and other methods for decreasing traffic.

LA County is also working to free up jammed highways by educating commuters about public transit options and being stricter about access to express lanes.

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority voted this week to eliminate free access to express lanes for electric cars and plug-in hybrids. The county program had become so popular that plug-in cars were jamming toll lanes along the 110 Freeway in Los Angeles.

MTA also reported that overall emissions from the highway increased, contrary to the program’s goals. Officials said more electric and plug-in cars in the toll lanes slowed traffic in the other highway lanes.

The Mobility Plan urges the city to shed its traditional, auto-centric approach to transportation planning and instead develop infrastructure for non-automobile forms of transportation. It calls for more dedicated lanes for bikes and buses.

Reducing the number of miles driven by the city’s residents and expanding the role of the street as a public place, are other points of the plan.

If the plan is implemented, driving would be just one of several transportation options for commuters.

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