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Community Design

Types of Transportation to Work

Types of Transportation to Work and Your Health

Type of transportation to work refers to the way a person chooses to travel to work, such as by bicycle, bus, or car. Data related to types of transportation to work available on this Tracking Network include:

  • single occupancy vehicles, such as a car, truck, or van,
  • carpool,
  • public transportation, such as a bus, trolley bus, street car, trolley car, subway, elevated railroad or ferryboat,
  • motorcycle,
  • bicycle,
  • walk, and
  • work at home.

Taking public transportation, carpooling, walking, and bicycling to work can have environmental, economic, and personal health benefits. Walking, bicycling, and public transportation promote regular physical activity, reduce traffic congestion, and decrease air pollution from cars, which in turn reduce chronic disease rates, obesity rates, and traffic related fatalities. But, these types of transportation account for only 13% of all trips.

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Exposure and Risk

How people get to work may depend on how well the design of the community supports different types of transportation. Each trip that a person makes by walking, bicycling, or taking public transportation likely increases that person's physical activity, which in turn may affect a person's health. These trips may also indicate an improved community design that supports healthy choices, like walking. Increased numbers of people walking to work, for instance, reflects a community's overall ability to support walking trips.

Relying on motor vehicles, and less on walking, bicycling, and taking public transportation, has a significant impact on health conditions, such as:

  • obesity,
  • diabetes,
  • injuries,
  • heart disease and stroke, and
  • asthma.

Obesity is a preventable cause of death and may lead to increases in other chronic diseases. Increased community rates of walking and bicycling to work are associated with decreased rates of obesity and diabetes. In a 2001 study of adults in a metropolitan community, each hour spent in a car per day was associated with a 6% increase in obesity. Commuting by bicycle or walking allows people to achieve the recommended amounts of daily physical activity requirements and travel to work. Public transportation also provides an opportunity for physical activity - as users often walk or bike to public transportation. A 2005 study of public transportation users concluded users walk a median of 19 minutes per day to access the bus or train. Reducing the number of motor vehicles on the road may decrease air pollution and health problems linked to air pollution. Motor vehicles are major contributors to air pollution, which have been linked to illnesses related to breathing, such as asthma among children and adults. Numerous studies have also found that air pollution from motor vehicles is linked to heart disease. The annual health costs associated with air pollution from traffic are significant, estimated at between $50 and $80 billion. By reducing the number of vehicle miles traveled through walking, bicycling, taking public transportation to work, or working from home, there is opportunity to improve air quality.

Increasing active transportation to work may also decrease traffic fatalities. That means more pedestrians and bicyclists make it safer for other pedestrians and bicyclists. There is also a connection between the number of vehicle miles traveled and fatalities. An increase in vehicle miles traveled in communities has been shown to increase fatality rates.

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Prevention

Physical inactivity, obesity, injuries, and health problems from air pollution can all be affected by the choice of how people travel from place to place. Individuals can take specific steps to prevent each of these health outcomes. For example, if traffic in a community makes walking difficult, a person could increase their physical activity by exercising in a gym. But, not everyone will have the resources or time to act individually. Addressing all these health outcomes requires public health interventions at the community level to make healthy choices easier and safer.

Some ways for communities to improve transportation-related health outcomes include:

  • build and maintain sidewalks, crosswalks, bicycle racks, and bicycle paths;
  • control the speed of traffic on roads where people walk through design, speed limits, and enforcement;
  • build destinations, such as schools, grocery stores, parks, bus and train stops, and employment centers within walking distance of homes, and ensure that the routes to these destinations are safe;
  • provide convenient public transportation service; and
  • strive to reduce the size of city blocks in new or existing development and build pedestrian connections in existing neighborhoods.

Individuals can support these improvements by:

  • getting involved with Safe Routes to School programs that support efforts for children to walk and bicycle to school,
  • attending community planning meetings, and
  • when possible, choosing to live or work in locations that provide more transportation options.
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