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This Earth Day Santo Domingo is Going Green and Getting Healthy, Too

By Dr. Kelly Henning, Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Health team lead

April 22 is Earth Day. As we focus on conserving our lands and cleaning up our planet, it is important to also remember that the exposures in our environment impact our physical health.

The air pollution that comes from burning fuels for energy can also cause noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as heart disease, stroke and lung diseases. These diseases lead to over 39.5 million deaths globally every year of which over six million are due to outdoor and indoor air pollution.

The good news is that we can work together to both reduce air pollution and tackle NCDs. The city of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic is doing just that by developing and implementing a citywide Bicycle Action Plan.

As a part of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Partnership for Healthy Cities, a network of 54 cities committed to saving lives by preventing NCDs and injuries, Santo Domingo’s Action Plan aims to make cycling more appealing for its residents. By encouraging physical activity, the plan will reduce the rate of NCDs and, because people shift from cars to bicycles, will also reduce disease-causing air pollution.

The Action Plan will improve physical cycling infrastructure, better connecting coastal bike lanes to the rest of the city. The initiative will also produce data about safety, demographics, and demand within the existing cycling landscape.

It will explore how the city can promote cycling as a transportation option both through city planning and to the public directly. It will work to improve overall safety for people cycling and walking by managing traffic speeds and volume and make intersections safer through design changes. Ultimately, the Action Plan will make it easier and safer for residents of the city to bike to work and for recreation.

In April, the city established the Biking Working Group of Santo Domingo, its first active mobility stakeholder working group, to move forward with the Bicycle Action Plan and oversee designated improvements to the existing cycling infrastructure.

With a view like this, it is not surprising that Santo Domingo Mayor David Collado was excited to explore the bicycle lanes. What’s exciting about this initiative is that it shows that incremental changes can make a big, broad difference. More people cycling leads to less air pollutants, more physical activity and, overall, to healthier cities.