Triangle transportation choices a matter of economy – and health

Bicycle lanes on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh
Bicycle lanes on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh FILE PHOTO

When I was a child, biking and walking to school was the norm. Granted, back then we did not wear helmets, and the cars did not always have seat belt. The times sure have changed. We have traded walking or riding with friends to sitting in car pool lines.

Of course, children or adults won’t ride their bikes unless the roads are safe. Many factors create safe biking conditions, like protected bike lanes, lower driving speeds, good crosswalks and drivers refraining from texting. Fortunately, Raleigh and many other towns are adopting policies to promote the use of our streets for all modes of transportation, including biking and walking.

Public transit is another form of transportation that promotes the healthy activities of walking and biking. Statistics show that when people use transit, they walk much more in a day simply because one must walk to get to and from a bus or rail stop. When my family vacations in larger cities with public transit options, we get by without a car and enjoy spending time walking instead of finding an expensive parking place.

This month, a major plan to expand frequent bus service and create a commuter rail line will be considered by transportation planning agencies. The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and the GoTriangle transit authority are holding public comment on the proposed Wake County transit plan. Anyone can comment or even speak at a public hearing this week. The transit plan will quadruple bus service making it much more usable, and we can connect to jobs, entertainment and the entire Triangle with a new rail system. All of us will likely get to vote on a referendum to fund a significant expansion and improvement of public transit this November.

The health benefits of walking and biking are obvious. Our increasing numbers of citizens with obesity and diabetes are encouraged by their physicians to exercise. We need to share our streets with these cyclists and pedestrians. The greenways are a start, but not everyone has access nor does the greenway meet their needs as commuters. I know many of our patients are dependent on alternate modes of travel to arrive at their doctor appointments or to get to the hospital for elective procedures.

Transportation is critical to our economy, but how we get around is also critical to our health. Roads really should be shared by buses, cyclists, and pedestrians – not just automobiles. As more people relocate to Wake County, we need to critically evaluate our infrastructure so that we can support the health of our population as well as the growth.

Linda Butler, M.D., is chief medical officer at UNC REX Healthcare

What: Public hearing with CAMPO and GoTriangle

When: Wednesday, 5 p.m.

Where: Raleigh Convention Center, Room 402

More information: nando.com/transitmeeting