Active transportation is most often regarded as a way to do our part in reducing our GHG emissions. But what is often left out of the dialogue is that active transportation options – getting out of our cars – can also contribute to our individual and community well-being.
Research studies across Canada indicate that physical activity among children and youth in particular is declining and each year governments spend billions of dollars on health issues related to sedentary lifestyle. To a large extent, how we plan our communities and the structures that we build are designed primarily to accommodate automobile users and the sedentary lifestyle. But this is changing and we are seeing municipalities looking for new and innovative ways to expand their active transportation opportunities and encourage people to remain active and to get more physically fit and healthy.
Municipalities have recognized that active transportation options provide opportunities for people to connect with their neighbours and create a stronger sense of community.
Investments made toward active transportation options are now viewed as more than physical transportation infrastructure, but also as an investment in community relations and community connection.
Along with the benefits to health and community cohesion, supporting active transportation provides choice for all residents and can reduce transportation costs. There are also indications that active transportation options can also impact our economy by enhancing tourism and commercial opportunities; reduced public spending on health; and reduced wear and tear on our roads and transportation infrastructure.
There are many strategies that have been successfully utilized in communities to expand active transportation opportunities for residents and to ensure safety of users. Strategies such as traffic calming, multi-modal lanes, designated bike lanes, and improved signage have all helped to encourage more users and to ensure people are safe.
Current transportation trends indicate that attention to active transportation in planning and development is on the rise. We have also seen an increase in education, partnership and promotion of active transportation for municipalities, schools, non-profit organizations and health agencies all suggesting that our region is moving in the right direction.
In order to reap the full reward active transportation systems can offer, we must ensure that investments are aligned within a local and regional land use planning framework and that new development supports active transportation objectives. This includes supporting strategies in more densely populated areas as well as ensuring residents in more rural and less densely populate areas have access to trail systems and active transportation options as well.
Investing in active transportation infrastructure not only contributes to GHG reductions, but also provides opportunities to build better communities. The Province of Manitoba’s Active Transportation Guide can be used by municipalities as a general framework to identify opportunities and to establish an active transportation network. So for the sake of our environment, our health and our pocketbook its time we make active transportation options a priority as we plan our communities now and for the future.
It is time to lace up the shoes and get on a bike!