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Can Public Transportation Save Your Life?

by Published on
PHOTO BY WILLIAM RUB
One of Houston's new B-cycle kiosks.

Observers have long speculated that Houston’s famous weight problem might be due in part to its car dependency. Now we have proof.

A study of Texas drivers published this week in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, shows that—surprise—a long commute can make you sick. Researchers examined more that 4200 adults in the Dallas-Fort Worth and Austin areas and found long commutes correlated with high blood pressure, increased waist size, decreased heart function and lower likelihood of getting enough exercise. A driver with a commute of 16 to 20 miles is 52 percent more likely to be obese.

The average Houston commute? Twenty-one miles.

Research also shows Houstonians are sick of it. A Kinder Institute survey released in late April reported that 56 percent of Harris County respondents called development of better mass transit “very important” to Houston’s future, and 51 percent preferred taxpayer money go to improved rail and bus systems rather than expanding existing highways.

All of this may make Houston’s latest green move more likely to succeed. Last Wednesday, Mayor Annise Parker kicked off B-cycle, a program that lets riders check out bicycles downtown for up to 90 minutes for free. Full-day rentals are $5 and riders can buy a year-long pass for $50. The program is starting with just 15 bikes at three locations, but the mayor hopes to have 200 bikes available by the end of the year.

Fifteen U.S. cities have bike-share programs, and New York is rolling one out in July. So what if their obesity rate is only 20 percent? We got bikes!

Emily DePrang is a staff writer at The Texas Observer where she covers criminal justice and public health. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic and Salon.com, and she’s a former nonfiction editor of the Sonora Review. She’s holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Arizona and a B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin. In 2013, she was a National Health Journalism Fellow; in 2012 she won the Sigma Delta Chi award for public service in magazine journalism.