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Your Ride: Vancouver

Karen Quin Fung writes about sustainable transportation and transit policy every Tuesday.

Congestion improvement sales tax a chance to rediscover walking

Last week, Dr. Patricia Daly, in her role as chief medical officer for Vancouver Coastal Health, endorsed a “yes” vote for referendum on the 0.5 per cent congestion improvement sales tax, on account of its benefits for public health.

Dr. Daly is echoing what an increasing number of medical professionals from multiple perspectives are saying about the health benefits of walkable environments. But wait, isn’t this referendum about transit?

The sales tax will directly support projects enhancing walking and cycling safety. Every transit trip starts ends with, and involves, walking. More transit service means more people walking to and from stops, allowing more vibrant streetscapes that even more people within walking distance can enjoy.

Imagine that you choose how you make trips the way you choose meals at a restaurant. Building car-dependent neighbourhoods that are unsafe and unfriendly for walking, cycling and taking transit effectively takes and keeps things off the menu. Only double cheeseburgers for you, without extraordinary effort — no matter what you had this morning, what you’re feeling like today, or what condition you have or know you’re at risk of.

Just like fast-food joints have been rethinking what their customers want, the referendum is our chance to add more transportation choices to more people’s list of options. It’s up to us to put those healthy choices on the menu. Bonus: It happens to save us all money on health care in addition to helping individuals stay happier and healthier.

Docs are rethinking their old finger-wagging approach. In January, the chief science officer for the Canadian Diabetes Association cited the overwhelming focus on diet, exercise and personal behaviour in treatment of Type 2 diabetes as an obstacle her field needs to overcome, since it takes away resources and attention from educating the public on the role the environment (i.e., walkability) plays in managing and preventing diabetes.

Put simply? We engineered the physical activity out of our lives, and now we’re hurting for having built our communities this way. A study of neighbourhoods in southern Ontario over the course of 10 years observed rates of diabetes declining seven per cent in walkable neighbourhoods.

Is our knowledge perfect? No, this isn’t a panacea. Some folks will still be at risk, their choices will continue to play a significant role in their outcomes, and many of them will sadly get and stay sick.

But right now, this is what an ounce of prevention looks like. It gives more of us a chance to dodge the bullet of these illnesses. Next week or next decade, that person wanting or wishing they’d had that chance might be you.

We know what works. Let’s build it.

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