Striking a Balance in Transport for All Road Users

What will it take to strike a balance between all road users? Photo by Will Vanlue.

A recent study out of the London School of Medicine found that in comparing walking to cycling on London’s congested roads, bicyclists tend to have a higher concentration of carbon deposit in their lungs. We previously covered this story as part of our ongoing weekly series, Research Recap.

The higher concentration in cyclists of black carbon, the dangerous deposit that can lead to heart problems and reduced lung function, is due to faster and deeper breathing necessary for cycling, the study explains. Walkers who are exposed to the same harmful particles also have build-up in their lungs. However, the study explains, the amount in the lungs of cyclists is generally 2.3 times more than that of pedestrians.

Understanding the risks posed to alternative transport users, the study calls for more “low-pollution cycling routes” to protect the health of cyclists and pedestrians alike. Low-pollution cycling routes seem to be the most practical and less costly option to provide an alternative to cyclists. But is it possible that we are perhaps missing the point?

The danger posed to pedestrians and cyclists does not come from the act of walking or cycling. The true origin of the threat is the black carbon released from private vehicles. So then, why isn’t our solution better focused on the true origin of the problem? By removing cyclists from the road, are we further enabling our rigid car culture?

No Choice But to Drive

In some aspects, the prominence and dominance of our car culture is one of absolute necessity. Last Friday, the New America Foundation finally launched their year-long work on the Energy Trap. The site is a collection of stories on how middle-class families cope with the high prices of car ownership. In many instances, commuting by car is the only option to reach work, services or education; a necessary evil, as some might see it.

Those with an annual household income of $30,000 or below carry the highest burden of high fuel prices. This group travels the longest, pays the most for repair costs due to the cheap yet poor condition vehicles, spends the most on gas due to the low energy-efficiency of vehicles, and has the lowest access to credit, in addition to higher insurance costs due to longer drives.

In fact, a recent study from the Metropolitan Policy Program of Brookings Institution confirms NAF’s findings. Mass transit reaches higher end jobs, the study finds.

There are various elements to why lower income groups find themselves in these conditions. One is that consumers don’t always see their choices or understand the impact of their choices. A second is that despite seeing the options, consumers don’t have the luxury to make choices.

It seems that as long as we fail to provide adequate transport options to all income classes, we can’t possibly expect to strike a balance between all road users.

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