ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Urban Transport and Public Health

How about low-emission vehicles and more active travel like walking and cycling?

It is no longer in doubt that the state of a city’s transport has a direct bearing on the safety and health of its residents. For well over a decade now, health professionals in developing countries have been urging policymakers to ensure the efficiency of and access to the public transport system so as to decrease dependence on private vehicles. This would not only result in decongestion of roads but also reduction in air pollution and risk of accidents. There have been arguments for what might seem too ambitious given the socio-economic make-up of Indian cities and existing public amenities: privileging pedestrians and cyclists over motorists. Now, studies published in The Lancet with the intention of informing discussions at the Copenhagen Convention on Climate Change show that efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in major sectors like urban land transport can lead to immense improvements in public health.

Researchers looked at four alternative 2030 futures for London and Delhi: business as usual with the possibility of a 5% rise in emission from 1990 levels; use of lower carbon emission vehicles leading to a two-fifth cut in emissions; increased active travel like walking and cycling allowing for a two-fifth cut in emissions, and a combination of active travel and low emission vehicles which would cut CO2 emissions by three-fifths. In London more active travel would bring about a reduction in heart disease and stroke by 10-20%, in breast cancer by 12-13%, in dementia by 8% and depression by 5%. Coupling active travel with low emission vehicles would mean further reduction of air pollution and thus, greater health benefits. In Delhi, more active travel is estimated to ensure a 10-25% reduction in heart disease and stroke, and a 6-17% cut in diabetes. Policies that combine reduced motor vehicle use, more walking and cycling and low carbon emission motor vehicles would render the greatest health benefit results. The Lancet says that “bigger benefits” are expected in Delhi taking the air pollution aspect into account and that decreased car travel and increased active travel could cut road traffic injuries up to a third (1,14,590 people died due to road accidents in India in 2007, the highest number in the world according to the World Health Organisation).

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