The sun is just coming up over southwest Houston as we meet up with bus rider Neil Orts.
"Hey Neil, Hi, Good Morning."
We're tagging along as he makes his ten-minute walk to to the bus stop at Richmond and Chimney Rock.
"I live without a car, which I know is crazy in Houston."
Orts works downtown, and he's been making his weekday walk to the bus for about two years now. Along with saving money on parking and other expenses, Orts says there's another benefit to using the bus, and that's his health.
A few years ago Orts experienced what he calls a heart event. He says it wasn't to the level of a heart attack, but it was serious enough for his doctor to warn him he wasn't getting enough exercise. So Orts decided to do something about it.
"When I worked by the Galleria I just started walking home in the evenings, which was just about a forty-minute walk, and that got me back into walking a whole lot."
And on a follow-up visit to his doctor Orts saw his efforts were paying off.
"He grabbed my calves one day and said, you really do walk a lot, don't you? (laughs) I don't lie to my doctor. You have science to figure out if I'm lying."
And researchers will now try to figure out if other transit riders are getting the same results. With the help of a grant from the National Institutes of Health, UT Health and the Texas Transportation Institute are teaming up for a first-of-its-kind study.
The five-year effort focuses on people who live near Metro's new light rail lines. The Red Line extension opened in December. Two more lines are set to open this fall.
Researchers will study the travel patterns of people who start using the trains and measure changes in their level of physical activity.
"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity."
UT Health researcher Harold Kohl says Houston's situation is unique, since they can look at behavior before and after the trains start rolling.
"We call it a natural experiment in that the study really couldn't be done, asking these particular questions, if the rail lines weren't being extended."
Also working on the study is Texas Transportation Institute researcher Ipek Sener. She says participants will keep diaries and fill out questionnaires.
"We are hoping the results of this project will inform future transportation policy and funding at all levels of government."
Meanwhile back in southwest Houston, we get to Richmond Avenue just as the #25 bus glides to a stop. Neil Orts says if you've been thinking about walking to the bus stop, just do it.
"It's just not as hard as people want to make it out to be."
This story was informed by sources in KUHF's Public Insight Network ®. To become a news source for KUHF, go to www.kuhf.org/pin.