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Smith, L. (2007). The true cost of owning a car. Investopedia. 49
Tucson is a reflection of the inefficient transportation system of the United States. The city’s auto centric emphasis is resulting in a collection of unhealthy citizens, endlessly investing into constructing unaccommodating infrastructure and contributes to the degradation of the natural environment. In order to correct these issues facing Tucson, the city must encourage more active transportation. By using case studies of other American cities- Portland, Minneapolis, and Austin- Tucson can learn some strategies that have been successful. Portland, Minneapolis and Austin have all effectively created active transportation systems utilizing various techniques. Creating a safe built environment, constructing a connected network and introducing equity amongst all forms of transportation can encourage more participation of active transportation in Tucson. By adopting the strategies used by Portland, Minneapolis and Austin, Tucson can produce a successful active transportation system and furthermore, create a healthier population, an efficient economy, and reduce the degrading environmental behavior that all exist today.
The broken transportation system of the United States has resulted in a prevalent dependency on cars and, subsequently, accompanying unprecedented health issues, endless monetary investment, and environmental degradation. The United States is an emblem for a society that was built around the automobile. The nation’s average vehicle per household is 1.8, which is comparable to the average of 1.5 cars per household in Tucson, Arizona (Car Ownership in the U.S., 2013). Since the United States is generally considered to be a car dependent nation, this comparison echoes Tucsonans’ dependency on the private vehicle for daily obligations.
There are many negative consequences of relying so heavily on automobiles for means of daily travel. The United States is known to have the highest prevalence of sedentary lifestyles resulting in the highest occurrence of overweight and obesity rates (Frank, 2009). The nation’s transportation system also has a huge impact of all levels and scales of economic vitality through endless investment in an inefficient system. Lastly, the local and global environment suffers greatly from the operations of automobiles.
In order to overcome the issues caused by the nation’s transportation system, incremental changes must be implemented at local levels to promote a new system in the form of active transportation. Many of the negative impacts of the general dependency on automobiles are negated when the design of the built environment is shifted to accommodate those who commute actively by foot or by bicycle. Reduced obesity rates, a stronger economy and a healthier environment are all the results of a transportation system that prioritizes active commuters. Therefore, it is important for Tucson to correct its auto-centric transportation system, as well as the issues that system causes, by investing in a new scheme that is built around active commuters. Portland, Minneapolis and Austin all provide excellent examples of strategies to minimize the hindrances keeping commuters from shifting to active transportation.
This paper consists of research collected and utilized using quantitative research and grounded theory. Grounded theory is the process of collecting data and tying that information to social patterns (Nieswiadomy, 2007). Data was collected in order to illustrate the wide spectrum of the issues related to the contemporary transportation system that is implemented in the United States. The grounded theory method assists in seeking and identifying the social patterns between the participation of active transportation and the benefits received relating to health, economics, and the environment (Nieswiadomy, 2007). Grounded theory also allows comparisons to be made (Nieswiadomy, 2007). Throughout this paper, comparisons are made between various geographic areas in regards to the current strategies encourage active transportation.
This paper is also constructed through case studies. Case studies allow comparisons to be made between different social structures. Since the application and promotion of active transportation systems have resulted in successful and unsuccessful examples around the world, it is important to identify the key components of those systems that have created successful outcomes. Those outcomes will then be suggested applicable to the built environment of Tucson, Arizona.
The data that was collected mainly consists of material found through Google Scholar and the University of Arizona’s Library enclaves. The material is generally in the form of scholarly journal articles. Data for issues relating to current transportation systems in the United States were found using keywords such as “transportation”, “United States”, “obesity”, “pollution”, “economy”, etc. Some of the information on the topic of issues were confronted on the Center for Disease Control, The World Health Organization and the US Census Bureau website. Information relating to the benefits of active transportation was encountered using keyword searches such as “active transportation” OR “active commuting” AND “health benefits”, “economic benefits”, “environmental benefits”. In order to find successful examples of cities that have implement active transportation, keyword searches such as “Portland”, “Minneapolis” and “Austin” were used. Many of the data gathered from these cities were found in their individual active transportation master plans. Information was also gathered using local blogs and news articles. Looking at Tucson’s weaknesses helped to determine which layers of the successful plans of Portland, Minneapolis and Austin would be the most substantial in improve the city’s active transportation system.
This research paper is laid out in a series of sections. The literature review discusses the reasons as to why encouraging Tucsonans to participate in active transportation is beneficial. It provides background relating to the structure of the current transportation system and explains its inefficiencies. The paper then moves to the data section, which is comprised in various subsections. First, the issue of safety in Tucson is addressed followed by strategies implemented by Portland, Minneapolis, and Austin in order to provide a safe riding and walking environment. Next, the issue of connectivity in Tucson is addressed accompanied by approaches that Portland, Minneapolis and Austin integrated their successful active transportation networks. Lastly, Tucson’s transportation prioritizes motor vehicles and the subsections that follows discusses how Portland, Minneapolis and Austin attempt to create a balance in the monetary investment and the presence of infrastructure. The subsequent section is the discussion, which examines what strategies implemented in Portland, Minneapolis, and Austin are applicable to Tucson and address safety, connectivity and prioritizing active transportation.
The obesity epidemic is affecting the United States at unprecedented rates with about a third of the population considered to be obese (Adult Obesity Facts, 2015). Pima County’s adult obesity rate is close to the nation’s average with approximately 26.6 percent of the population being obese; which is higher than the overall states obesity rate of 24.7 percent (Community Profile: Pima County, Arizona, 2013). Obesity has been found to be the common cause of degenerative diseases such as cardiovascular disease, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, respiratory diseases, cancer, and impaired mental health, all of which are affecting the state. For example, Arizona Department of Health Services declared that one in four deaths in Arizona are due to heart disease, the leading cause of death in the state. Additionally, Arizona is ranked 15th in the nation for type 2 diabetes prevalence, about 31 percent of the state experiences hypertension, hundreds of thousands are affected with heart disease and tens of thousands have obesity related cancer (Arizona, 2013). These numbers are only expected to increase within the next twenty years.
Furthermore, a positive association has been found between the more time spent driving and higher body weights; on average about 64 minutes were spent daily driving per person in 2001 in the United State (Frank, 2009). In Tucson, the mean travel time to work is about 22 minutes, resulting in a round trip commuting time of close to 45 minutes (US Census Bureau, 2013). Since nearly an hour is spent in the car, assuming this is the only commute of the day, Tucsonans are less inclined to obtain their daily recommendation of at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity 5 times a week; motivation and time are two of the most common excuses not to partake in leisurely physical activity. Thus, leaving only 48 percent of Arizonans to receive adequate physical activity as recommended by the Center for Disease Control (Center for Disease Control, 2013).
One of the simplest solutions to the diseases aforementioned caused by the private vehicle is the promotion and investment in active transportation, which is an alternative form of transportation that requires physical effort, such as walking or bicycling, for utilitarian purposes. Walking and bicycling have been associated with lower risk of obesity thus lowering the risk of non-communicable diseases (Active Transportation, 2015). Encouraging walking and biking is simple because they are accessible, inexpensive and timesaving; however it is more difficult to encourage them as a means of transportation in the typical American city due to the convenience of driving a car. Though the car does allow one to travel a further distance in a shorter time and with little effort, about half of the trips in the United States are about three miles or less. Thus, by bicycling for two to three miles for a total of 30 minutes round trip would result in achieving the Center for Disease Control’s activity recommendation.
Building an environment at the scale of the pedestrian and bicyclist also brings about many economic incentives as well. Encouraging active transportation helps to create a health economy at all scales, including the individual, the business and the region. Individuals commuting by foot or by bike can save money by avoiding the cost of owning and fueling a car as well as money spent on health insurance. The local and state economic sector benefit from the creation of jobs, taxes, and local dollar circulation, resulting in more money remaining in the local economy. Lastly, the federal government saves money on funding the highway infrastructure, and investing significantly less to fund the infrastructure to accommodate active commuters. Consequently, all levels and participators of the United States economy benefit from the investment in active transportation.
Owning a car is no frugal purchase. After accounting for the purchase of the car, gas, maintenance, and insurance, the Consumer Expenditures in 2006 found that the average price of owning a car is about $8,000 per year (Smith, 2007). Shifting from vehicular travel to active commuting for daily obligations could significantly reduce this number. Another cost of commuting by car is the price of health insurance from a sedentary lifestyle. Inadequate physical activity can lead to a plethora of health issues that will ultimately require thousands of dollars in health insurance. A study published by the Center for Disease Control found the difference in health insurance costs ranged from about $500 annually if insufficiently active to $1500 annually if completely inactive between those who are considered active (Carlson, 2015). The individual could be saving thousands of dollars annually by participating in active transportation.
The local and state sectors of the economy also benefit greatly when catering to the needs of active commuters. Bicycling, specifically, profits cities and states’ economies across the country through tourism and job creation. For example, Arizona Department of Transportation found that out-of-state tourists impacted the state’s economy by $88 million, annually, through means of events, retail sales and job creation (Arizona Department of Transportation, 2013). Not only does active transportation benefit industries relating to cycling but it also has been shown to impact local businesses districts. With the money pedestrians and cyclists are saving on health insurance or not owning a car they are able to spend that money at local businesses, especially the ones that are most accessible by foot or bike. Active commuters are also more likely to make repeat trips to their local stores because of the distance limitation when walking or biking. Therefore, businesses can benefit greatly by catering to this specific demographic.
Of course there are also national economic benefits. Cities that are built around cars are requiring large sums of federal investment in order to maintain and construct new roads for growth. The funding for highways is split about 50 percent to maintenance and 50 percent to expansion; however, the money spent on expanding the highways only benefits about 1.3 percent of the country’s roads (Schmitt, 2015). Cities that are using the money to invest in infrastructure for active commuters will more efficiently accommodate for population growth. Also by spending money on bike and pedestrian infrastructure, active recreation will even further expand from already contributing an estimated $133 billion, annually in the United States as well as 1.1 million jobs (Clarke, 2012).
Lastly, shifting the transportation system to cater to active commuters can benefit the environment. The systems of the environment are all interrelated and impacted by all actions of mankind. Thus, several elements of the environment feel the burden our societies’ activities. The Sonoran Desert is a delicate ecosystem with issues affecting the health and quality of life of all of its residents; many ranging from concern about obtaining sufficient amounts of quality water and the apprehension of climate change that is increasing days of extreme heat, drought, and flooding.
Of course, air pollution is directly correlated with the capacity of drivers on the roads. As of now, personal vehicle transportation accounts for about a fifth of the total global carbon dioxide emission; about a third of the nations greenhouse gas emissions are due to daily household travel (Frank, 2009). Every gallon of gasoline burned by driving contributes to 20 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. “In 2011, daily driving in Pima County contributed to 2 million pounds of carbon dioxide to air pollution” (Tangerine, 2013). Unfortunately, emitting greenhouse gases triggers a positive feedback loop with the need to consume more energy. These polluting chemicals result in higher temperatures, resulting in a desire to cool by air conditioning, and therefore consuming and polluting more greenhouse gases. Encouraging Tucsonans to commute by foot or bike can mitigate the amount of emitted greenhouse gases and will assist in breaking the demand cycle.
Also, by changing the transportation system to prioritize cyclists and walkers for daily commutes, the need to rapidly accommodate large quantities of new drivers will diminish and as a result the demand for more surface area of urban infrastructure will begin to plateau. Not only do extensive highway systems encourage people to drive and emit greenhouse gases into the air but, also, large quantities of surface area cover of impervious material results in rapid rates of water runoff whisking away all of the chemicals and contaminants into surface water. These waters potentially disrupt ecosystems and the quality of the community’s water supplies, resulting in more money spent on clean up and a smaller water consumption supply. That water is also unable to infiltrate the water table and receive natural filtration, resulting in scarce supplies of ground water for consumption. By reducing need for more highways, it implies several other beneficial consequences for the environment; such as, lower sprawl rates, less resources and materials, reduced urban heat island effect, lower energy consumption, etc.
Fortunately, these benefits are being recognized in cities around the United States by way of policies, investments, and societal inclinations that are shifting to the support of active transportation. These American cities, such as Portland, Minneapolis, and Austin, are demonstrating innovative and effective adaptations to their policies, goals and design in order to promote active transportation. Therefore, it is vital for Tucson to understand these active transportation revisions and to participate in the movement in order to experience the positive impacts of the investments of time, effort and money into the infrastructure. By demonstrating the benefits of active transportation to the rest of the country Tucson can help to produce a healthier, more affluent and environmentally conscious society.
Bicycle Tucson posted a blog posing the community this question: “why don’t more people commute by bike in Tucson?” The answers were varied but safety, connectivity, and lack of priority given to active commuters were among the most prevalent. These answers are assumed to be applicable to the obstructions hindering Tucsonans from commuting by foot as well. The Pima Association of Governments (PAG) published that only 8 percent of commuters travel to work or school by bike while 82 percent travel by car. The study also concluded that the majority of bike riders only partake in the activity for recreation and as few as 21 percent only utilize bicycling as a means to commute (PAG Regional Plan for Bicycling, 2009). As discussed before, several benefits can be seen at all levels of a community when there are more active commuters, some of which are experienced in cities such as Portland, Minneapolis and Austin. These cities are utilized as examples for Tucson to follow due to their high ranking in several polls regarding the city’s “friendliness” to bikers. These three cities also see relatively high percentages of bikers. Both of these reasons stimulated the assumption that these cities have ”friendliness” for walkers and high percentages of walkers. Therefore, investing in effort to address and correct these issues by learning from Portland, Minneapolis and Austin is vital for Tucson’s active transportation community to augment.
Safety in Tucson
There are several data recorded that legitimizes active commuters’ concern for safety in Tucson. 28 percent of respondents to a survey conducted by PAG confirmed Pima County is not “bike friendly” due safety and lack of maintenance in bikeway facilities(PAG Regional Plan for Bicycling). The following data concerning the safety of cyclists in Tucson comes from the annual reports posted on Tucson Bicycle Crash Database, funded by PAG and run by The City of Tucson. In 2011 (the most recently completed and posted data), there were 378 bicycle collisions and 436 pedestrian collisions involving vehicles, with four of these collisions resulting in a fatality (Tucson Bicycle Crash Database). The majority of these collisions, for both pedestrians and cyclists, occurred throughout the workweek during rush hour traffic(PAG Regional Plan for Bicycling, 2009). Intersections are places of particular vulnerability for active commuters. Especially along arterial streets with high volumes of traffic and high speeds; a person struck by a car going 35 miles per hour is ten times more likely to die than if the car were traveling at 25 miles per hours. The majority of these collisions occurred at intersections of main streets with speeds of more than 25 miles per hour (Daniels, 2014); therefore the pedestrian or cyclist is more vulnerable in these intersections. Also, those intersections’ multimodal infrastructure, generally, only consist of narrowly, striped shoulders. Among Tucson intersections, the following table illustrates the most dangerous:
Another pattern that was observed by the Bicycle Crash Database is the most common collisions involving motor vehicles and bicyclists. The graphic below displays the type of collision percentages. The category “other” has the largest percentage and includes collisions with parked cars, pedestrians or animals, door zone collision, cyclist losing control or equipment failure, cyclist riding into the street, and other unique or location specific incidents. The most prevalent type of collision, outside of the category of “other”, involved the motor vehicle turning right with a cyclist approaching from the right, riding on the wrong side of the street. This type of incident occurs at the intersection of side streets or driveways. Next, crosswalk account for a large occurrence of bicycle collisions where one or both parties fail to stop at a stop sign or stop signal.