As the most urbanized state in the United States, New Jersey is not a stranger to long commutes. Here, as the saying goes, distance is measured in time rather than miles. And while New Jersey residents are familiar to long commutes, research shows they could be detrimental to health. Extensive research looking at commute-related stress has found that lengthy commutes increase stress, decrease sleep quality, and can negatively impact social interactions. These factors are magnified by the lengthier the commute. Economists have found that “a commute of 45 minutes carries such a cost to well-being that economists have found you have to earn 20 percent more to make the trip worth it”. Thus, commutes not only affect physical health, but mental health as well.
Active transportation – walking, biking, or any other type of non-sedentary activity – can help combat both the negative physical and mental health effects of commuting. These modes of transportation increase physical activity, which improves physical health, and stimulate brain activity, thus improving mental health. An 18-year study conducted at the University of East Anglia found that people with longer commutes have poorer mental health than those with active commutes, and as well-being is positively associated with productivity, active transportation may improve office efficiency. In addition, active transportation benefits are obtainable by everyone. Active transportation is frequently less costly than owning a personal vehicle, so anyone can participate. Communities that promote active transportation commutes by adding Complete Streets design infrastructure are promoting equity within the community, while also improving social cohesion and decreasing road congestion. Complete Streets design entails the collective use of road diets, greenery, benches, wide sidewalks, and bicycle facilities in order to create safe access for all users. Complete Streets infrastructure not only improves personal health, but research has shown that walkable/bikeable communities foster economic growth in downtowns.
The New Jersey Department of Transportation is aware of the equitable health benefits of active transportation and has not only adopted a statewide Complete Streets policy, but has worked to connect different bicycle and pedestrian advocacy groups across the state. The New Jersey Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Council functions to share update polices and new projects across the state. This group also serves to create a collective and cohesive approach to active transportation throughout the state so that New Jersey communities can improve local economies and commuters can be happy and healthy.