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Active travel can drive urban economic growth and contribute to citizens health

07 November 2012

Experts in health, city planning, environment and transport from Europe and the United States, including several local authorities, debated at workshop in Brussels on 30 October on integrating health aspects in transportation planning to improve urban mobility and gain substantial savings in public health.

The Polis Environment & Health working group meeting was held at the European Economic and Social committee on 30th October.

This meeting gathered experts from the World Health Organisation, French Ministry of Sustainable Development, French Centre for the Study of Urban Planning, Transport and Public Facilities (CERTU), Italian Healthy Cities Network, London European Partnership for Transport (LEPT), Volpe National Transportation Systems Center US Department of Transportation, Healthy Communities Nashville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, and several European cities.

Brussels, Paris and London presented their policies and implemented measures: low emission zones, community travel plans, incentives for walking and cycling, disincentive for the motorized traffic, awareness raising and promotion campaigns. The goal is shared: to reduce the use of the private car, improve air quality, and accommodate more pedestrians and cyclists. "Cities must take action now if they want to obtain substantial benefits in public health and drive a positive growth in the job market and public financing" said Mr. Paul Curtis from LEPT.

Health benefits from increased physical activity in our daily life (e.g. walking and cycling to work and school) not only translate into individual gains but benefit the entire community. The WHO's HEAT tool can help in measuring the health benefits for increased physical activity among the population and support decision making processes.

City of Modena, Italy is partner in the PHAN, a WHO's project to promote networking and action for healthy and equitable environments for physical activity. "A €40,000 spending in completing our cycling network will have a return on investment of €414.000 in financial savings in public health over a period of 10 years" said Ms. Simona Arletti, city councilor in charge for health and president of Italian Healthy City Network. "Quantifying public health gains is crucial to justify decisions before my city planning department and demonstrate the importance of promoting active travel among citizens."

"We should have an holistic approach and integrate all modes of transportation while planning mobility in our cities" said Mr. Laurent Jardinier from CERTU, "PDUs, the French equivalent of Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans, aims at preserving health conditions of inhabitants. This is quite an innovative approach, yet transport and health policies need more integration."

Mr. William Lyons from the Volpe Institute in presenting the U.S. Policy Framework said they are working "toward comprehensive intermodal transportation planning with all institutions following the 3 C Process: Comprehensive, Coordinated, Continuous" with the aim to overcome fragmented decision-making.

"Bringing together and creating a dialogue among institutions, the civil society and experts from different fields is crucial if we intend to achieve results in the short term" underpinned Mr. Mordant from the EESC. Yet EU institutions were missing in Wednesday's debate.

European cities can rely on a rich set of tools and planning approaches to achieve better quality of life in cities by promoting healthier communities. "It's a matter of conveying a positive message to all political actors and institutions starting from the EU level" said Polis director Mr. Sylvain Haon, "WHO and The PEP (the Transport, Health and Environment Pan-European Partnership) are preparing their fourth high-level meeting in Paris at the Transport Research Arena in April 2014. The platform holds the potential for inter-institutional cooperation at all levels." Save the date!

The agenda and presentations can be downloaded here.

City of Modena, Italy is partner in the PHAN, a WHO's project to promote networking and action for healthy and equitable environments for physical activity. "A €40,000 spending in completing our cycling network will have a return on investment of €414.000 in financial savings in public health over a period of 10 years" said Ms. Simona Arletti, city councilor in charge for health and president of Italian Healthy City Network. "Quantifying public health gains is crucial to justify decisions before my city planning department and demonstrate the importance of promoting active travel among citizens."