Social Benefits of Active Transportation
Active transportation means any form of human-powered transportation. It generally means walking or biking but can also include rollerblading, skateboarding, canoeing, or any other way you like to get around.
There are tons of benefits of active transportation. In fact, lots of reports have been written on just that. I’ve chosen to look at a report by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities called Active Transportation in Canada: a resource and planning guide. The report outlines several health, environmental, economic and social benefits of active transportation.
Here’s a summary of the social benefits of active transportation that any commuter will understand.
According to the report, “Improved pedestrian and bicycle networks can have positive impacts on overall community and individual well-being, social cohesion, community identity, and equality issues”.
Active transportation can increase your well-being because driving is often not a pleasant experience. Traffic and congestion can cause stress as well as decreased work performance and productivity. According to the report, noise pollution from cars is also associated with nervousness, depression, sleeplessness and irritability. On the other hand, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association, exercise relieves stress, reduces muscle tension, improves blood flow and floods our body with feel-good chemicals. Exercise can also reduce anxiety and symptoms of mild depression. Who knew your morning commute was so important for your mental health.
On the social side of things, active transportation can increase social cohesion and peoples’ sense of belonging in a community. In car-dependent communities, your home, work and social places, such as the gym or the pub, are much farther apart. This results in less social interaction between people which weakens the sense of community in a place. Think about a town or city you know where a large number of people walk or bike to most places and then think of place where you need to car to get around. Which one was more social? Which one do you have a stronger connection to? The increased social interactions that come with active transportation not only increase social cohesion, they also make people feel as though they belong to a community and help them to differentiate their community from others that might seem similar to someone just driving through. This is important as it helps people create ties to a community.
Active transportation can also help alleviate equality issues. Many Canadians don’t own vehicles for a number of reasons such as a disability that prevents them from driving and the fact that owning a car is expense. Communities with active transportation infrastructure, such as bike lanes, sidewalks, and pedestrian paths, can offer people alternative ways of getting around that are less expensive and can be safer, depending on their needs.
Anyone who has had to commute long distances for work or gone to school at a “commuter-campus” can attest to this. Communities that people drive in and out of can be less social. It just makes sense, it’s hard to love your community when you’re just driving through.