Health, Equity, Transportation
Walk Bike Ride isn’t just about getting from point A to point B; it’s about making the healthy choice the easy choice. If a person’s surroundings are not supportive of walking, biking and riding, their health can suffer.
Some low-income communities and communities of color lack access to a transportation system with safe, complete sidewalks, bike paths, adequate bus service or destinations in their neighborhood like parks, grocery stores and libraries. As a result, these communities may experience higher rates of certain chronic disease and injuries, also called health inequities As part of the Race and Social Justice initiative in the City of Seattle and a parallel initiative in King County, the Equity and Social Justice Initiative, we are working together to make transportation decisions that can reduce health inequities.
Transportation choices have the ability to influence our personal decisions regarding where we live, shop, go to school, work, and enjoy leisure. They can affect stress, finances, our sense of independence, and the time we spend with our friends and family. Although most people don’t think of it as a determinant of health, our transportation system has far-reaching implications for our risk of obesity, diabetes and injuries.
- OBESITY In King County, over half of the adult residents are overweight or obese (about 770,000 people) and just over half (55%) report that they exercise moderately about 30 minutes a day, five times a week. In school-age children, 21% are overweight and 9% are obese. Equity is also a concern; compared to whites, the prevalence of obesity among African American adults is 60% higher.
- DIABETES Poor nutrition and physical inactivity can increase an individual’s risk for type 2 diabetes, and there are inequities. Low income adults have higher diabetes rates in King County.
- INJURIES Streets that are not designed and built to accommodate people on foot or bicycle can be stressful, difficult and dangerous to use. In underinvested neighborhoods in particular, neglected roads, speeding cars, poor lighting, missing or inadequate sidewalks, and minimal traffic enforcement place residents at a higher risk for injury. Additionally, time spent driving has been linked to obesity and increased likelihood of car crashes.
Why this is important:
Regular physical activity provides a wide array of health benefits, including reducing the risk of some forms of cancer, heart disease, stroke, obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes, just to name a few. In fact, research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that “obesity is linked to the nation’s number one killer—heart disease—as well as diabetes and other chronic conditions.” The report also states that one reason for Americans’ sedentary lifestyle is that “walking and cycling have been replaced by automobile travel for all but the shortest distances”. Automobile travel also produces harmful exhaust that lowers air quality, harms respiratory health and contributes to global warming. Ensuring that all residents of Seattle can walk as part of their daily routine could drastically improve public health.
Health, Equity, & Transportation May 26 Forum
Last May the city hosted a forum looking at the impact transportation choices have on communities from a health and equity perspective. If you weren’t able to make it, you can watch the May 26 forum here. Moderated by C.R. Douglas, a panel of community members discussed questions such as:
- What do you see in your own neighborhood that makes you walk, bike, ride transit?
- How do peoples’ neighborhoods/built environment affect their health?
- How are different people affected differently? Why is this?
- What does the future look like, if we do it “right”?
Jen Cole is the director of the Safe Routes to School Program at Feet First. Safe Routes to School programs aim to increase the number of students walking and biking to school safely.
Dr. Ben Danielson is a pediatrician at Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic. Located in Seattle’s Central District, the clinic provides medical, dental and mental health care under one roof to all families regardless of their ability to pay.
Ed Ewing is the director of the Major Taylor Project at the Cascade Bicycle Club, which has the mission of creating a multicultural bicycling community where teenagers have equal opportunity to spend time outdoors and on a bicycle.
Carla Saulter, “Bus Chick”, blogs for www.seattlepi.com. Carla is a third-generation Seattleite (on her dad’s side) and is one of a growing number of Seattleites who have chosen to live without a car. She takes the bus everywhere she goes.
Anne Vernez Moudon, Dr. es Sc., Professor of Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Urban Design and Planning at the University of Washington. She also directs the Urban Form Lab, which studies neighborhood and street design, non-motorized transportation, and physical activity.
 Journal of the American Medical Association, October 27, 1999
 www.kingcounty.gov/health/indicators, accessed 5/2010
 Jovanis P. Chang HL (1986) Modeling the Relationship of Accident to Miles Traveled. Washington DC: Transportation Research Board. Transportation Research Record 1068, 42-51.