(Photos: Kelly Roche/QEW South Post)
BY KELLY ROCHE
Creating communities where it’s easier to leave the car behind means residents will choose healthier transportation options, says Peel Region’s chief medical officer of health.
One in 10 Peel residents has diabetes – which is higher than the provincial average – and “if we don’t do something to alter the current trend, by 2025 we’re looking at a rate of one in six,” Dr. Eileen de Villa told the QEW South Post.
Heart disease is another top concern in the region, and opting to cycle, walk, or take transit for short distances can make a remarkable difference, she said.
de Villa rattled off statistics at Monday’s Mississauga Moves transportation summit:
By increasing public transit use by 9.8 per cent, upping active transportation use for getting to work or school by 5 per cent, and substituting 5 per cent of current short car trips with a walk, bike ride, or bus trip, we would see 338 less premature deaths per year, prevent more than 1,000 cases of diabetes per year, and avert at least 90 hospitalizations per year from heart and lung conditions.
Habit change will come by designing “environments that actually allow them to choose healthy options,” she said.
de Villa recalled the case of a man who left the suburbs for downtown Toronto “and found himself in a position where he could actually walk to work everyday.”
Within a few months, his weight and blood pressure decreased, and he no longer needed medication.
In Mississauga, we take 500,000 trips a day “that are less than 5 kms in length,” said Ryerson University transportation planning professor Raktim Mitra, citing 2011 data.
Mitra pointed out 87 per cent of these trips are by car — “distances that could easily be biked” or arrived at using transit.
“Cars are probably the least efficient modes of transportation,” said Mitra, noting most people who operate vehicles are “captive drivers” and they drive because they have to.
But do they have to or want to? Since a “significant proportion of our population is comprised of people who are actually predisposed towards the development of diabetes,” said de Villa — namely, South Asians, Southeast Asians and East Asians – culture has bearing on the paradigm shift.
Nim Savage lives in the Huron Park area and said she has always walked her children to school while everyone else drove.
Savage, originally from Laos, said while some immigrants may arrive with an “old school mentality” of cars signifying wealth or status, she thinks age, not race, plays a significant factor in embracing active transportation.
“I’ve seen a lot of (the) younger generation – even though they’re coming from the East – they’re environmentally conscious,” said Savage.
Traffic engineer Nick Poulos said pedestrian, bicycle, and transit counts at Asian-themed malls, particularly Markham’s Pacific Mall and the Market Village, are the highest recorded in Canada.
“I think these people have a lot to teach us about how to live our lives,” said Poulos.
“I also see much more of the ethnic grouping participating in parks, activities, picnicking, so I think they’ve already come from a culture which doesn’t place a great value on the automobile.”
Canadians, “especially Canadians of my age, grew up with a car. It’s very hard to pry the car out of their hands,” said Poulos.
Most people under 30 and new immigrants “don’t have that sort of bias,” he said.
“I think they recognize that there’s more to life than sitting for two hours or three hours in the car.”
Why sit when they could shop? In Markham, the average daily bike count exceeds 1,200, said Poulos.
“I don’t think Square One is anywhere near that number.”