How to Reign in Health Costs—Build Sidewalks and Bike Lanes

If I promised to give you two dollars five years from today, for one dollar right now, would you give me the dollar? What if I promised to give you twice as much of a much larger sum right now? Could you scrape together the funds and muster up the self-discipline to wait for your return? What about your family and friends?

Great article by Mike Maciag in “Governing the State’s and Localities”. Thanks to “Dan Dan the Transpo Man” for forwarding the link.

In short, cities with more walkers and cyclists are less obese. Key excerpts:

• An estimated 35 percent of U.S. adults are obese, and another third still maintain weights exceeding those deemed healthy. This doesn’t bode well for governments and individuals paying insurance premiums, especially with the country’s aging population.

• Historically, studies have linked trails, sidewalks and bike lanes with an increase in walking or cycling. As medical costs continue to rise and evidence mounts that such infrastructure also improves well-being, more officials might look to give health consideration greater standing in transportation planning.

• While only a fraction of workers in an area may opt to bike or walk to work, having the necessary infrastructure in place compels others to use it more regularly.

• . . . the correlation between commuting and residents not considered obese nor overweight was strong–16 percent greater than the relationship with median household income.

• When cutting expenses, health costs are an easy target. A recent study by two Lehigh University researchers reported obesity-related costs accounted for $190 billion annually in U.S. health expenditures, nearly 21 percent of the country’s total bill.

• Those looking to move can use the popular walkscore.com website to measure how accessible an apartment or home’s various neighborhood amenities are on foot.

The problem is we’re not financially savvy enough to tax ourselves—say in terms of raising the federal gas tax by a $1/gallon—in the short-term to fund the necessary walking and cycling infrastructure in the medium-term that would lead to health cost savings in the long-term. Collectively, we’re unwilling to pay a little more for a hybrid when the “buy back” is somewhere down the road.

In our Southeast Olympia corner of the world, the Byrnes family’s walkabililty score is a pathetic 18 out of 100. On the other hand, we’re blessed with wonderful sidewalks and bike lanes almost everywhere. Maybe I should start using them. Maybe I should walk more. Or run. Or cycle.

Just one of many nice bike lanes in the State capitol.

Despite the blue, cars still pass cyclists then turn right. Too often, out of sight, out of mind. Ride defensively my friends (said the most interesting man in the world).

2 thoughts on “How to Reign in Health Costs—Build Sidewalks and Bike Lanes

  1. Commuting by bike is amazing. The slight change in exercise helps weight control and not using the car for 12 miles each day adds up quickly. Besides, I always arrive at school in a great mood with my lesson plans done in my head. Highly recommended. Great article.

    • The economics are especially compelling if you can leverage bicycle commuting to deduct a car from the household total. People focus on gasoline, but the depreciation, insurance, and maintenance are real budget killers.

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