COVID-19 safety measures forced people to reconsider how they travel and seek out safer alternatives, like bicycling and walking, to reduce viral exposure by social distancing. The question is, as the world opens back up and vaccines become more readily available, will we continue to see active transportation becoming more popular compared to traditional modes of travel?
Active transportation is a healthy, low-impact physical exercise that can reduce the risk of many health problems associated with a sedentary lifestyle. But sharing the road with motorized traffic also means increased risk for bicyclists and pedestrians (e.g., injury risks and potential exposure to noise and air pollutants).
Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) Assistant Research Scientist Bahar Dadashova is the principal investigator on a project assessing the impacts of COVID-19-induced active transportation demand on the transportation system and public health, which is being funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology. The project is an interdisciplinary collaboration involving Dadashova’s TTI research team members including Senior Research Scientist Rafael Aldrete, Associate Research Scientist David Galicia, Associate Research Scientist Haneen Khreis, and Associate Transportation Researcher Xiao Li; and Texas A&M University’s Professor Chanam Lee (Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning) and Assistant Professor Zhe Zhang (Department of Geography).
“Our team is comprised of a diverse set of experts,” says Dadashova. “From TTI, we have representation from the Institute’s Center for International Intelligent Transportation Research, Mobility Division, and the Center for Advancing Research in Transportation Emissions, Energy and Health, while Texas A&M members bring expertise in active living research and Geographic Information Systems.”
Active transportation’s increased demand during COVID-19 has forced many U.S. cities to convert traffic lanes into bicycle lanes and sidewalks—positive trends which can greatly benefit public health, if sustained—and could lead to long-term implications for infrastructure planning and public health.
To ensure changes to existing infrastructure are both safe and sustainable, city and state transportation officials need a comprehensive evaluation of the potential health impacts, both good and bad. Dadashova’s project seeks to provide data-driven tools and recommendations to help officials make informed bicyclist- and pedestrian-friendly decisions. The project aims to meet three objectives:
- Estimate the COVID-19-induced active transportation demand;
- Assess potential positive and negative impacts of active transportation on health through four pathways (e.g., physical activity, traffic crashes, air and noise pollution, stress, etc.); and
- Develop data-driven tools and recommendations for implementing a bicyclist- and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure to meet and maintain this new demand.
“Life during the pandemic has certainly forced us to expect the unexpected,” Dadashova notes. “But owing to the long-term impacts of the pandemic, we can’t be certain what active transportation demand will look like in the future. That’s why it’s imperative to provide decision-makers with the research and tools to make the best-informed policy decisions possible.”
To learn more about the project, please read the project abstract.