- Improvements in transportation infrastructure can improve millions of people's mental health, according to a WPI Economics report, commissioned by London City Airport.
- The report highlights three key areas where transportation infrastructure and service improvements could benefit citizens' mental health:
- Better journeys — Reducing delays, cancellations, overcrowding and anti-social behavior. This can also affect non-transit users by reducing traffic congestion, air pollution and noise pollution.
- Improved design — Transit hub elements such as color, natural material use, the inclusion of mixed-use spaces and the design of information displays/announcements impact travel experiences and mental health.
- Transport for all — Tailoring transit hub design and services to the needs of groups with existing physical or mental health conditions and disabilities.
- The study examined areas for improvements to road, rail, transit and airport infrastructure and services in England.
The study points out a number of elements of transportation — especially transit — that act as stressors. These hold true for people of sound mind and body, but especially for people who have mental health conditions that can be exacerbated by the stressors. Stressors include noise, overcrowding, long trips, confusion, unpredictability or a lack of control in situations such as transit delays and cancellations or ticket kiosk malfunctions and closures.
Although many of the stressors might seem short-lived, the study notes that they can have lingering and cumulative negative effects on individuals' happiness and life satisfaction. The document cites research that shows adding 20 minutes to a person's commute time impacts their living standards similarly to reducing their full-time salary 20%.
Mental health issues cost not just the affected individual but others around them and a community as a whole. For example, mental health issues can lower a person's well-being, leading to reduced daily functioning and productivity. Lower personal productivity affects an employer's productivity, which can cause a drag on the overall economy. Therefore, preventing mental health issues before they start or treating them immediately leads to increased personal well-being and a community's economic outlook.
The report says "poor design in the urban environment" affects people, but transit infrastructure improvements — especially in design — can help. Airports and transit hubs can incorporate acoustic controls to reduce noise, clear wayfinding to ease passenger navigation, good lighting and thoughtful use of colors. The study suggests that intuitive and clear interior design reduces anxiety and triggers for panic attacks and other mental health issues.
Researchers suggest that thinking holistically about mental health and factors that influence it can improve citizens' well-being and a community. They suggest that groups working toward this goal all collaborate for more successful outcomes. That can include employers, nonprofits and government leaders at all levels pitching in to support citizens' mental well-being.
Although the study focused on transportation in London, the principles apply to cities around the world. Transit agencies worldwide struggle with reducing the stressors listed in the report, but the recommendations could provide a starting point for improvement.