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Assessing the risk of infection from the transport safety perspective

My colleagues and I have been developing a risk assessment table for land transport modes to be submitted to the UP COVID-19 Response Team. We did a rapid assessment using mainly concepts from road safety.

The concepts are fairly simple. Risk assessment can be based on the likelihood of contracting the virus gauged from certain exposure factors. Exposure estimation may be quantitative where metrics are applied and data collected for the analysis. Estimation may alternatively qualitative based on experiences, perceptions, expert opinions, etc. but subject to logic (e.g., careful deduction). In road safety, for example, these factors may be defined as three: time, distance and volume.

Time exposure can be determined using travel time as a metric. Longer the travel times mean higher exposures for a commuter. Higher exposure translate to a higher likelihood that a person may become involved in a road crash. Thus, a commuter traveling for 1 hour, one way, will have a higher likelihood of being involved in a crash compared to another traveling only 10 minutes even assuming that both use the same mode of transport. Applied to the risk of viral infection, longer commutes may mean people can have higher exposure to potential carriers of the virus.

Distance exposure can be determined using travel distance as a metric. Longer travel distances mean higher exposures for a commuter. Higher exposure again translate to a higher likelihood that a person may become involved in a road crash. Thus, a commuter with a travel distance of 10 kilometers will have a higher likelihood of being involved in a crash compared to someone traveling only 1 kilometer. Applying this to the risk of viral infection is similar to the previous case for time exposure even when assuming the same mode of transport.

Volume exposure can be determined using both the volume of vehicles as well as the number of passengers inside the vehicles. The more vehicles or people you have on the roads interacting, the higher the likelihood of one becoming involved in a crash. It can also be argued that riding public transport in high volume, mixed traffic makes a passenger have a higher likelihood of being involved in a crash. Again, applying this to the risk of viral infection, it should be easy to understand why physical distancing is necessary in vehicles as well as outdoors when walking or cycling. It should also extend to having less vehicles on the road to further reduce the likelihood of spreading the virus.

In the real world, we cannot isolate each factor from one another. Instead, we have to contend with all three combining to create various scenarios. Along expressways, for example, the volume of vehicles might be high and so are distances. Time exposure can be lower due to high speeds. Yet high speeds can contribute to increased likelihood of crashes. Meanwhile, traffic congestion has all the ingredients for maximizing the likelihood for crashes and, by extension, viral infection. Long commutes (by time and distance) plus high volumes of people and vehicles combine to create the worst case scenario from the perspectives of both road safety and infection, which are both public health issues.

Next – Why we should not return to the old normal…

On the DOTr for Public Transport – Maritime Sector

Here’s a continuation of the set of guidelines issued by the Department of Transportation for transport operations for areas that are or will be under the General Community Quarantine (GCQ). Again, I try to refrain from making any critiques or comments, and post this for information and reference.

On walking, running and cycling for exercise during the Covid-19 pandemic

We had been walking in the early mornings prior to the so-called “total lockdown” implemented by our Barangay. There were others like us in our community who walked, jogged or cycled during the same time we took our walks. However, we all practiced physical distancing and used masks while outdoors. We could afford to do this because the village where we resided in had relatively wide streets and there were few houses and residents compared to other residential areas. In our case, we usually walked in areas where there were even fewer houses and people. It is highly unlikely we could get Covid-19 during our morning walks. Afternoons were different as we observed more people going around including those who appear to be joyriding with their motorcycles.

Is there actual evidence that walking, jogging, running or cycling actual aid the spread of Covid-19? So far, there isn’t and what we have are mostly simulations. Yes, simulations like those that appear in articles that are going around the internet; often shared in social media. Here is a more informative and objective article about this topic that articulates more the importance of physical activity (i.e., in the form of walking, jogging, running or cycling) in combatting the virus while also emphasizing the need for social or physical distance and the use of masks:

Niiler, E. (2020) “Are Running or Cycling Actually Risks for Spreading Covid-19?”, Wired, https://www.wired.com/story/are-running-or-cycling-actually-risks-for-spreading-covid-19/?bxid=5bd6761b3f92a41245dde413&cndid=37243643&esrc=AUTO_OTHER&source=EDT_WIR_NEWSLETTER_0_DAILY_ZZ&utm_brand=wired&utm_campaign=aud-dev&utm_mailing=WIR_Daily_041420&utm_medium=email&utm_source=nl&utm_term=list1_p4 [Last accessed 4/15/2020]

 

I appreciate the efforts of those in our Barangay to make sure no one gets infected (there are zero incidents so far). However, sometimes the overeagerness seem to trump the need to practice common sense in these times. I believe there is a need to make an even bigger effort to ensure people are able to maintain physical and mental wellness through exercise or activity. I believe we are in a community where people are educated, aware and responsible enough to make this work.

On the importance of trees in the urban setting

Having lived in two other countries and traveled in many others, I have seen and experienced for myself examples of tree lined avenues and streets in the urban setting. And I am not talking about small cities but big ones like Tokyo and Singapore. I have gone to many of the big cities in Japan to be able to say that trees should have their place in the so-called urban jungle and the benefits of having them are tremendous. Here is a nice article recently published in The Guardian that explains the advantages of green streets:

Balch, O. (2019) “Green streets: which city has the most streets?”, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2019/nov/05/green-streets-which-city-has-the-most-trees [Last accessed: 11/08/2019]

Philippine cities should heed the advice from the author and city and municipal planners should make sure that plans incorporate trees and other flora. Obviously, they are not just ornamental but rather should be indispensable components of our towns whether it is highly urbanized or not. I guess the same concepts apply also to the roadsides of our national highways. The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) clearly had little or no regard for greenery; chopping down even the elder trees along the way of their road widening programs. As such, they have contributed to blight along these roads and it would take some time and effort to bring back what used to be tree-lined, canopied roads in many provinces.

References linking transportation and health

The Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) features several resources discussing the linkage between transportation and health. Here is the link to the page where they list references like reports from various sources as well as tools.

https://www.ite.org/technical-resources/topics/transportation-and-health/?fbclid=IwAR0ngmqtkbdJjaLJJoP1psCwk3W0VdhGFjS03WGEYDuo53teCMCFIfvSwAc

This is definitely a topic that needs more attention and studies in the Philippines in order to have local evidence (there are already strong evidence abroad) supporting active transportation and how it helps make citizens healthier. Of course, that goes without saying that active transport should be integrated with an efficient public transport system. That is so that the increasing share of private transport can be checked (no thanks to Grab and Uber) and we can either retain or increase public and active transport shares.

On prioritising pedestrians and promoting walking

We begin March with an excellent article that came out from curbed.com:

Walker, A. (2018) The case against sidewalks and how cities can create new avenues for pedestrians, curbed.com, https://www.curbed.com/2018/2/7/16980682/city-sidewalk-repair-future-walking-neighborhood [Last accessed 2/23/2018].

How do we improve the environment (i.e., facilities) to encourage people to walk? Do we simply clear up sidewalks? Widen them? Build overpasses and underpasses? What should be the context for improving pedestrian facilities for our cities and municipalities? What are the implications to planning and design?

Commuting and stress

Here is another quick post but on a topic that’s related to health and therefore is something that I think many should be interested in and perhaps take important note of.

Commuting: “The Stress that Doesn’t Pay”

There are many links to various medical articles within the article. At the last part, there is also a list of references that the reader may want to look at. I’m also posting this for future reference. This would contribute to the formulation of topics for research especially the inter-disciplinary or collaborative kind.

Walking is good for you!

I found the following graphic on social media (Facebook). It shows the benefits of walking, particularly 30 minutes of walking per day. There are many studies that have established the benefits of what is now termed as ‘active transport’ that includes walking and cycling to promote healthy communities and cities. If only our communities and cities are more walkable then perhaps more people can be encouraged to walk more and there will be a reduction of motor vehicle traffic. The latter will be those vehicles used for short distance trips that are typically associated with distances suitable for walking rather than riding or using a motor vehicle.

IMG_2730

The benefits of walking

I came across an old article on walking that appeared in The New Yorker in 2014. This was after reading another article my wife shared that also was about walking. One is about both the physical and intellectual benefits of walking while the other was about walking without a purpose. Both were about walking and thinking, and definitely about the benefits of even a short stroll to our physical and mental being.

Here’s the article from The New Yorker: Why walking helps us think

And the article from BBC: The slow death of purposeless walking

I highly recommend both articles as we ponder about making our cities safe for pedestrians/walking.

Encouraging and providing incentives for walking

A friend based in Singapore posted a photo showing a poster promoting a ‘National Steps Challenge’. The objective apparently and obviously is for Singaporeans and foreign nationals living there to get into walking. The target, according to the poster, is 10,000 steps per day. There are even illustrations in the poster showing estimates of  how many steps you can do at the home, the office or during your regular commute.

Steps challenge[Photo courtesy of Engr. Joy Garcia]

Such programs are exemplary and are aimed at boosting citizen’s health and welfare. Of course, Singapore can do this and many will respond even without rewards because Singapore has excellent transport infrastructure including an extensive public transport system and suitably designed pedestrian facilities.

Can cities in the Philippines come up with a similar challenge? Are there cities with good enough pedestrian facilities that can lead the way and become good practice examples in promoting walking; not just for the reason of commuting but also as a means to achieve better health among its citizens? Authorities can even include infographics on promotions showing the number of calories you can burn for typical walking trips as well as the health benefits one can derive from walking regularly. I think there are many cities that have decent infrastructure and attractive routes to promote walking. Among them are Vigan City, Marikina City, Legazpi City, Iloilo City and Davao City. Hopefully, these cities can take the cue from Singapore in promoting walking and perhaps, too, a national agency like the Department of Health can pitch in to promote this worthwhile cause for healthier lifestyles.