Happiness is… a bicycle lane, a bus stop or light rail line close to home.

Weather-proof waiting: Weather is unpredicable in this mountain city... so bus shelters have wide roofs to provide plenty of shelter for waiting passengers

Weather-proof waiting for the bus in Salzburg, Austria…

I love my bicycle: the freedom, the chance to combine fresh air, exercise and transport, the interaction with fellow cyclists and the affordability. Cycling makes me happy… and I’m not the only one. Daily cycling (i.e. consistent exercise) is good for mental health and the bicycle’s consistent and perpetual motion can improve memory, reasoning, and planning, while leaving stress, anxiety or even depression, at bay. Still, some cities are too sprawling or too hilly to depend on the bicycle alone. Interesting, living near public transport (PT) can provide a similar sense of happiness. According to a recent study people are happier when they live near public transport. Below is a summarized (and adapted) version of Eric Jaffe’s original article “Living Near Good Transit May Make You Happier” published by The Atlantic’s CITYLAB.

Medellin, Colombia: city centre, with its famous above-ground metro. This has been important to increase urban mobility, while fighting the city's crime problem. (See other post).

Medellin, Colombia city centre, with its famous above-ground metro. This has increased urban mobility, while fighting the city’s crime. (See post).

University of Minnesota transport policy scholar Jason Cao investigated the connection between public transport and personal life quality. He focused on Minneapolis’s Hiawatha light rail (the Blue Line) which runs between the city centre and the Mall of America, carrying commuters to sports stadiums, entertainment and the airport. It’s a quick success story: weekday ridership already exceeded 2020 predictions by 30 percent. Great news for public transport!

For Cao, it was also important to see how this influenced residents’ well-being. He sent questionnaires to households in the Hiawatha corridor asking respondents to rate the rail’s quality (e.g. service quality, accessibility) and their overall life quality. Cao sent the same survey to four other districts: two in urban areas (with public transport, without light rail) and two in suburbs (with similar demographics, without public transport). Residents near Hiawatha reflected higher ratings on life quality compared to the other four corridors. Travel contentment led to life contentment.

Super excited to test out the flashy new metro (#urbannerd)

Super excited to test out Medellin’s flashy new metro (#urbannerd) while attending UN-Habitat’s 2014 World Urban Forum.

I haven’t conducted such a study, but would reflect similar results. I haven’t had a car in 10 years. I don’t miss it. I love exploring a city using its public transport. In my current Amsterdam apartment, I love walking from my house, to a bus/ tram stop (across the street) or cycling 10 minutes to the train. My neighbourhood train station is complete with trains, subways, trams, buses and bike lanes…Mobility management bliss! I don’t plan, I just go. I don’t know the bus, tram or subway lines or schedules (I usually take my bike) but I know they will arrive shortly. At night when public transport is less frequent, I check the handy website/ app called 9292.nl to avoid waiting in the dark or cold.

In Cao’s study: perhaps residents enjoy the train, or the access to social and cultural destinations. (I love that you don’t have to worry if you’ve had a beer or two, and you never waste time looking for parking or being stuck in traffic.) In any case, it appears that satisfaction derives from living in close proximity to public mobility, highlighting PT’s role in everyday well-being. In a similar study, transport scholar Eric Morris wrote his doctoral dissertation [PDF] on the link between rail transit and well-being. Whether or not a person lived within a mile of a rail station had a greater impact on life quality than whether or not that person owned a car. People who lived near rail are not naturally happier; rail made them happier. (Personal commentary: agreed!)

Amsterdam Tram, December 2012 (c) US Consulate, Amsterdam

Amsterdam Tram, December 2012
(c) US Consulate, Amsterdam

These are two of very few studies investigating the link between commuting and life quality. Most research focuses on the negative psychological impact of commuting and more positive studies are needed. In the meantime, we can assume that well-planned public transport offers more than a ride; it’s a positive emotional force.

To avoid the hillier or busier streets, in Seattle (USA) public transport and cycling go hand-in-hand. This bus stop is two minutes from my parents house, and I'm always impressed to see how quickly they can load the bikes up.

In Seattle public transport & cycling go hand-in-hand. This bus stop is two minutes from my parents’ house; public transport proximity influenced their purchase.

This study doesn’t address public transport’s environmental benefits… the defacto “do gooder” effect certainly adds to my personal happiness. Or public transport’s contribution to holiday cheer, surprising passengers or passersby.  With such positive findings, I’m already looking forward to my train ride home: let’s get happy!

Amsterdam: Dutch dogs know how to ride…

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I’ve seen just about anything carried on a bicycle in Amsterdam: multiple cases of beer, furniture (including tables or chairs), Christmas trees, strollers, several suitcase balanced on both arms (while still cycling) or a few children distributed for weight balance. I’ve even … Continue reading

Mechelen: Three Cheers for Cyclists

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I started this blog to describe the cities and urban initiatives that inspire me or generate thought. Perhaps in some way I hoped it could also serve as an informal platform to share these interesting, creative, or even goofy, ideas … Continue reading

Amsterdam: Public Art Expos and Sesquicentennial Celebrations

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Stepping off the train in Amsterdam and meandering into the city centre, it quickly becomes apparent what a blue city Amsterdam is – you can’t miss the canals, but you can get lost in them. Walk (or bike) a bit further … Continue reading

Medellín: city of transition, city of hope

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In April 2014, urban experts and enthusiasts from around the world travelled to Medellín, Colombia for UN-Habitat’s Seventh World Urban Forum. With nearly 25,000 mayors, civil servants, academics, students, NGOs and interested urban citizens registered, it was the largest ‘WUF’ to … Continue reading

Amsterdam Electric

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An avid city cyclist, I must admit: there is one automobile trend that has caught my attention – electric cars. While countless cities are beginning to provide better electronic mobility infrastructure and access, Amsterdam is quite literally leading the “charge”. … Continue reading

Amsterdam: Evolving History

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Wandering central Amsterdam’s historic canals, gazing up at crooked old warehouses-turned-apartments, one can feel the city’s rich history. Few cars are brave enough to challenge the bicycles on the narrow canal streets, resulting in a peaceful quietness in the heart … Continue reading