Healty Communities Forum

Monday evening I attended the Healthy Communities Forum</a<> in San José, put on by the Loma Prieta Chapter of the Sierra Club and co-hosted by a number of organizations, including Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition.

Normally I try to avoid evening meetings, but I was actually glad I attended. I really enjoyed the main presentation given by Neil Maizlish, who is with the California Department of Public Health and has a long list of credits involving research into health issues. He described some results of his recent research connecting climate change, the built environment, and public health/chronic disease issues. A few highlights:

About California: We are the 12th largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world; transportation causes 38% of our greenhouse gas emissions; passenger vehicles are 30% of the total. So reducing car emissions is important. Two ways to do it: Change the cars so they produce fewer emissions, or lower the miles driven. We need to do both.

As an example, London has an aggressive program to encourage an increase in bicycling and walking from the baseline average of 10 minutes per person per day to 30 minutes average. This has had a big positive effect on both amount of emissions and on public health. The two are obviously interrelated.

The California Department of Public Health partnered with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to look at the health co-benefits and potential harms (ie., injuries) from active transport and low carbon driving in urban populations. They used data from regional travel surveys and the US Census. One finding is that 45% of Bay Area car trips are under 3 miles, and 60% are under 5 miles. Thus an increase in walking and bicycling should be achievable. However the built environment is often a deterrent; thus the reason for the Forum.

If use of active transport (walking, bicycling, public transportation) is increased from a baseline of 2% to 15% of distance traveled, the health benefits in reduced chronic disease and longer lifespan are significant. Interestingly, while this would also significantly reduce emissions, the increased health benefits in the model are mainly from the increase in exercise. In addition to the health benefits and reduced medical costs, active transport and low carbon driving could achieve a the 45% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2035 that puts California on track for the 80% reduction by 2050 mandated by AB32.

For all the wonky details, check out the report at http://cdph.ca.gov/programs/CCDPHP/Documents/ITHIM_Technical_Report11-21…

There will be additional monthly forums with various related topics. Check it out at http://healthycommunitiesforum.weebly.com/2012-forums.html

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