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Health Department

The Amp - Bus Rapid Transit

May 2014

By Dr. Bill Paul

Next week, Nashville’s discussion of the proposed bus rapid transit (BRT) project, the Amp, will continue as proposed design changes are reviewed in public meetings. Up to now, much of the community discussion has centered on how the Amp would impact traffic flow and area businesses, as well as the cost of public transit. Mayor Karl Dean often mentions the health benefits of mass transit, including the physical activity he gains from walking to and from the bus stop, and we do need to consider the impacts of the proposed transit project on our long term health. Decisions about our transportation system—whether constructing the Amp or any other transit solution—will have significant impacts on our health and wellbeing.

There is a growing body of research that examines the relationships between health and transportation. One recent study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that increased commute time to work is associated with poorer health, including less physical activity, more obesity, and higher blood pressure. In 2010, just over 60 percent of Nashville adults were overweight or obese, and roughly 30 percent had high blood pressure.

Chronic health conditions such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease can be improved through changes to our environment that encourage healthier, more active daily routines. One such environmental change is increasing transportation choices, which can have several significant implications for health. For example, about 30 percent of public transit users get their recommended 30-minute daily dose of physical activity simply by walking to and from their transit stop.

Formal Health Impact Assessments have weighed the evidence and noted potential health benefits of three proposed BRT routes in California. The Amp could provide a number of these benefits, including: improved air quality through a reduction in vehicle emissions; increased physical activity from walking or biking to and from transit stops; improved access to employment and educational services; a reduction in household transportation costs; and a reduction in stress as people spend less time driving and sitting in traffic. We would expect a positive impact on commuter and pedestrian safety, as cars are more dangerous than BRT, and the center-lane design of the Amp would actually result in shorter and safer crossings for pedestrians. Further, many Nashville residents will have improved access to medical care, as there are three hospitals and numerous medical service providers within a short walk of the proposed route.

With the Nashville area projected to grow by nearly a million people over the next 20 years, expanded public transit will be a necessity. The Amp represents a solid step toward an advanced mass transit system in our city and our region. As this system develops, it is important that our community’s health continue to be a part of that discussion so that the debate and the solution aim for the improved health and well-being of the people of Nashville.

Dr. Paul is Director of the Metro Public Health Department bill.paul@nashville.gov @billpaulmd