Expert Commentary

Hidden health costs of transportation

2010 report by the American Public Health Association examining the external costs that automotive-transportation systems impose.

While automobiles provide many benefits to society, they also negatively affect the public in ways often not taken into account in transportation planning. In addition to the thousands of deaths caused annually by crashes — there were nearly 34,000 casualties in 2009 according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — and their associated economic costs, cars also increase health-care costs through pollution and rising obesity rates. Without taking these and other factors into account, cost-benefit analyses of automobile-related projects tends to understate their true cost to society.

A 2010 report by the American Public Health Association, “The Hidden Health Costs of Transportation,” draws on numerous sources to better understand at the costs that automotive-transportation systems impose. The researchers determined that:

  • The estimated annual cost of traffic crashes is $180 billion.
  • The economic cost of road congestion ranges from $50 billion to $80 billion annually.
  • The estimated health-related cost of traffic crashes in five San Francisco neighborhoods is approximately $116 million. By instituting health-enhancing development, this could be reduced by more than 97%, to $3.4 million.
  • An estimated $22 billion in health-related costs could be saved per year in the South Coast of California if air quality standards were met.
  • Incorporating walkable features in urban design can yield significant health costs savings. By increasing street connectivity, the estimated savings could be between $2.3 million and $23.2 million.

The authors’ recommend that future planning take into account the true costs and benefits of all transportation options, including negative externalities previously ignored. They also suggest a broader approach to transportation planning that includes healthier options such as walking, riding bicycles, and public transportation.

Tags: bicycling, bicycle, bikes, cars, congestion, mass transit, obesity, pollution

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