Meeting Vermont’s transportation energy goals will benefit our health
The greatest health benefits would come from more walking and biking
BURLINGTON, Vt – A recent study by the Vermont Department of Health shows that transportation and energy policies are more important to your health than you might think.
The Health Department’s analysis of transportation-related health benefits found that changes in how we use transportation in Vermont can not only reduce greenhouse gases, but could also prevent 2,000 early deaths and save $1.1 billion in health care costs and lost productivity.
The transportation goals set out in the state’s Comprehensive Energy Plan call for walking, biking and bus use to double by 2030. The plan also calls for an increase in carpooling and sets 2050 as the target year for 80% of the cars in Vermont to be electric powered.
“Meeting Vermont’s transportation goals is a significant health-in-all-policies objective,” said Health Commissioner Mark Levine, MD. “When the state takes these important steps to improve transportation and address climate change, it has a ripple effect on public health through improved physical activity, better air quality, traffic safety and overall quality of life.”
Electric vehicles are critical to reducing carbon dioxide emissions. The state’s plans received a boost from Governor Phil Scott, who proposed new investments to increase access and incentives for electric vehicles in his two most recent budget proposals.
The greatest benefits to health, however, would come from more walking and biking. Vermonters spend nearly 500 minutes traveling via various forms of transportation each week, but only about 50 of those minutes are spent walking or biking.
Dr. Levine said that three behaviors – lack of physical activity, poor diet and tobacco use – contribute to four chronic diseases – cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and lung disease – which result in more than 50 percent of all deaths in Vermont.
“Two out of five adults in Vermont do not get enough physical activity, which increases the risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke and dementia. Changing the way we get around can provide important health benefits, as well as reduce the more than $2 billion it costs to treat chronic diseases in Vermont each year,” said Dr. Levine.
The study found that about 40% of all vehicle trips in Vermont are two miles or shorter. Dr. Levine said a focus on reducing barriers to walking and biking will make it easier for people to make the healthier choice of physical activity. Even using a bus for longer trips provides for some physical activity by walking to or from a bus stop.
How our communities are designed can promote opportunities to walk, bike or bus. Those choices tend to be easier in areas where housing, jobs and other destinations are close together — connected by sidewalks, bike lanes, and trails, and supported by reliable and efficient public transit services.
In Vermont’s hilly environment, using an electric bicycle can help make trips easier, while still providing health and environmental benefits. Several Vermont utilities currently offer incentives that help make e-bikes more affordable.
The department’s analysis was calculated using the Integrated Transport and Health Impacts Model, which combines local population, health, and transportation data with peer-reviewed scientific evidence to estimate the health, safety, and environmental impacts of transportation system changes. Health impacts were based on changes in physical activity, air quality, and traffic safety.
To learn more about these findings and how we estimated the results, visit healthvermont.gov/climate-transportation.
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