Active Transportation in Urban Areas: Exploring Health Benefits and Risks

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Active transportation refers mainly to walking and cycling for transportation.

Health Benefits: 

  • People who use active transportation are, on average, more physically fit, less obese, and have a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease compared to people who use only motorized transportation.
  • A shift from motorized transportation to active transportation has the potential for societal benefits such as reduced emissions of air pollutants and greenhouse gases, reduced traffic noise, and more liveable neighbourhoods with less motor-vehicle traffic.

Health Risks: 

  • People who choose active transport modes face an increased risk of injury from collisions, relative to motor vehicle users.
  • Active transport users may also be exposed to elevated levels of air pollution.

Realizing the Benefits, Mitigating the Risks: 

  • The proportion of trips that are made using active transportation modes remains low in Canada compared to many European countries. There is an opportunity to increase walking and cycling and realize the associated population health benefits.
  • Infrastructure modifications such as separated cycle lanes, connected networks of sidewalks and signalized crossing-points for busy roads can reduce injury risks for current pedestrians and cyclists, while encouraging new users to try active transportation modes.
  • Increased use of public transportation may have a corresponding increase in active transportation trips to access transit stops.
  • There is a “safety in numbers” effect for pedestrians and cyclists, so increasing the proportion of trips by active transportation modes can lower the rate of injuries.
  • Compared to those travelling by motor vehicles, people who walk or cycle may be able to reduce their exposure to air pollution through informed route choices, but this depends on the traffic levels on selected routes, and timing and duration of the trip.
  • In order to realize the benefits of active transportation, risks to individuals who walk and cycle should be evaluated. Further research is needed to understand how to best mitigate these risks.

Journal article

Publication Date Jun 01, 2010
Author Reynolds C, Winters M, Ries F, Gouge B
Posted by NCCEH Dec 15, 2010