There is a lot of interest in the upcoming midterm elections as major political parties jockey for votes with front-and-center issues such as criminal justice, gun control and drug policy. These concerns surrounding the election and politics dominate headlines and may overshadow other important ballot initiatives, such as active transportation, that can have a big impact on the personal health of all Americans. Attention to infrastructure is likely to fly under the radar this year, yet billions of dollars are at stake for deciding if and how to pay for improvements to state highways, roads, sidewalks, bike lanes and local projects that support active transportation.
In a twist of public health messaging, the role of active transportation in promoting physical activity is being encouraged so that people “take the gym on the way to work” instead of just driving to work. Active living research has shared information about ways in which walking to work, modifying roads and commuting by bike positively impact individual health and creates livable and sustainable communities with less congested roadways and air pollution:
- People who live in neighborhoods with sidewalks on most streets are 47 percent more likely to be active at least 30 minutes per day
- Take away message: Funds for sidewalks can improve health.
- Medians, speed bumps and other traffic control efforts can reduce the number of automobile crashes with pedestrian injuries by up to 15 percent.
- Take away message: Relatively low-cost road changes protect pedestrians from injuries and make walking safer.
- In Portland Oregon, bicycle commuters ride 49 percent of their miles on roads with bike facilities, even though these are only 8 percent of road miles
- Take away message: If you build it they will use it.
According to the Brookings Institute, states play a key role in determining infrastructure, and this year 36 governors will be elected. Here is where American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) members can spread the word that active transportation is a critical topic for candidates to consider if they are interested in earning your vote.
What can you do?
- If you are voting for a governor this November, find out how each candidate views and prioritizes active transportation, and vote for the one that best answers your questions.
- If there is a ballot to support active transportation in your community, vote to support it.
- If no one is discussing livability, active transportation and sustainability in your community, then bring these topics to your local City Council members and community leaders for action.
Public policies at the national, state and local levels play a major role in promoting active transportation and healthy communities. ACSM and ActivEarth provide leadership to support active transportation to improve public health and the environment by addressing personal health and climate change. Members can lead by example in their own choices of active transportation, educate others to consider healthier commuting alternatives, and influence policy makers to remove barriers and make it easier to be active and healthy.
On November 6, apply the term “active” to your lifestyle, voice transportation and vote!
Helaine Alessio, PhD, FACSM is Department Chair and professor in the Department of Kinesiology at Miami Universtiy in Oxford, OH.