Connecting The Dots

This blog was developed by our Healthy Cities working group

As challenging as winter conditions are on the Avalon for taking the buswalking, and cycling, these challenging conditions in winter and summer reflect transportation and urban planning decisions. It’s now spring in St. John’s and I still see people walking on the road after months of avoiding the sidewalks.

When governments invest in public transit and active transportation infrastructure, it has important health benefits. It can prevent and reduce chronic diseases that are a leading cause of death and disability in Newfoundland and Labrador. Recent studies published in the Lancet and the Public Library of Science suggest that increasing the number of people who take the bus, walk, and cycle on a regular basis can reduce cardiovascular disease (particularly heart attacks), type 2 diabetes, and respiratory disease.

Now you might be thinking, “I am already a fairly active person! I like to go for a hike and snowshoe, but I don’t take the bus, and don’t want to ride my bike in town.” Well, there are health benefits for you too. Some of the same research suggests that designing for a more compact and less car-dependent city improves air quality and reduces road traumas.

When municipalities take public transit, walking, and cycling seriously, these investments offer a high return on investment, which can mean a more efficient use of public funds in the long term.

Investing in public transit, walking, and cycling friendly communities are shown to be beneficial for peoples physical and mental health by facilitating social capital, like trust and social networks between neighbours, while building greater feeling of community and pride of place.

It is time for action on a more walkable St. John’s and on the Avalon Peninsula. The current fiscal situation for the province and historical precedents have created a moment where lots of attention is focused on urban planning and development on the Avalon.

The provincial government recently released The Way Forward: A Multi-Year Plan for Infrastructure Investments, the OurAvalon Background report was recently published, and the City of St. John’s Strategic Plan will be up for renewal soon. This fall, we will have a municipal election in which all of us will have the opportunity to ask our local elected representatives about what they intend to do about healthier and more active neighbourhoods. Most importantly, the federal government has also created a major infrastructure fund, with $4.9 million, to encourage municipalities to invest in public transit.

The Way Forward Plan also outlines that the province will adopt a Health-in-All-Policies Approach. This approach is meant to ensure that we consider the health impacts of all government decision-making, whether it be transportation, the environment, or educational policy. Given that the province spends the most per capita on healthcare and healthcare is the number one expense for the provincial government, this is clearly an important step. A Health-in-All-Policies Approach should consider the health impacts of major planning and development considerations including the provincial Multi-Year Plan for Infrastructure Investments, the OurAvalon consultations, and the City of St. John’s strategic plan.

There is very little discussion of public transit and active transportation in all of the current planning documents. If we are going to truly adopt a Health-in-All-Policies Approach all levels of government must evaluate major transportation and urban planning documents. The fact that current planning documents do little to consider the health benefits of increasing public transit and active transportation suggests there is more work to be done with Health-in-All-Policies.

The fiscal and health challenges we face in Newfoundland and Labrador are considerable and will require commitment to evidence based solutions. With timely federal investment, and a provincial government that is committed to a Health-in-All-Policies Approach, the communities that make up the Avalon Peninsula now have an unprecedented hierarchy of support to consider transportation and prudent city planning. Not only that, but the evidence shows that public transit and active transportation investments are cost effective and improve health.

What challenges do you have with current transportation systems on the Avalon? Do you see opportunities for improvement? Share your thoughts and experiences with us on Facebook and Twitter @happycitysj You can also help by filling out the ‘Our Northeast Avalon’ survey –  Share this blog post with your friends and get the conversation started about how urban planning decision can make you and your community healthier.

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