Long gone are the days of planning and building transportation facilities without regard to the impacts on people’s health, and their environment. And long gone are the days when transportation and health experts work in separate worlds, never sharing their expertise.
The mashup of transportation and health issues is increasingly a focus of conference sessions, and sometimes the entire focus of a conference. There’s even a LinkedIn group tracking related stories and news and fostering conversations: Transportation-Public Health Link.
This isn’t just an insider issue for a few health and transportation geeks. As long ago as 2005 the non-partisan blue ribbon National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission, created by Congress in 2005 to guide a new federal transportation policy and funding bill, noted: “The nation’s surface transportation network regrettably exacts a terrible toll in lost lives and damaged health.”
It’s clear that well-planned transportation facilities and options can reduce collision injuries and deaths, and assist to reduce the incidence of obesity, lung cancer, asthma and heart disease. Transportation is also critical for accessing health care and inducing physical activity.
And this isn’t about forcing people to walk and bike, or forcing governments to build sidewalks and bike paths instead of roads. Todd Littman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute explained it well in a 2010 article:
“What does this mean for planners? It is not our role to force people to increase their walking and cycling activity for health sake. Rather, our role is to help decision-makers and the general public understand the full impacts of their decisions, including indirect impacts such as long-term public fitness and health effects. They can then make informed decisions when designing communities and transport facilities, creating transport policies, or choosing where to live, (Incorporating Health Objectives into Transport Planning, Planetizen).”
Littman concludes: “The challenge for planners it to clearly communicate these impacts. For example, we can point out that expanding an urban arterial from four to six lanes may improve motor vehicle traffic conditions, but will degrade walking and cycling conditions which has negative health consequences, providing additional support for alternative congestion reduction strategies. We can quantify the health benefits that result from improving walking and cycling conditions, traffic speed control programs, transportation demand management strategies, and smart growth land use policies. Similarly, we can point out that among the many benefits of improving public transit service is that, by stimulating more walking and cycling activity, this helps improve public fitness and health. We can work with public health officials so they understand the many ways that transport and land use policy and planning reforms can help achieve their goals.“
Today there are many examples of transportation and health professionals collaborating to figure out how to improve existing transportation networks, and build new transportation facilities, to foster a community’s health and sustainability – in addition to improving mobility.
That’s exactly what a group of Spokane, Washington transportation and health professionals hope to achieve in a September 12 transportation symposium, “Inland Empire at a Turning Point.” The Symposium is funded in part with a grant from the Community Transformation Grant Program of the Centers for Disease Control.
“Innovative transportation professionals to hear and share what other communities are doing to get out ahead of transportation challenges” and “explore strategies for creating transportation systems that spur great communities.”
The cosponsors have a pretty short, plain language description of the challenge:
“Both nationally and locally communities are facing new significant forces that play into our transportation investment choices; the aging baby boomer generation, rising obesity rates, increased demand for multimodal facilities, significant backlogs of deferred facility maintenance and preservation work and shrinking budgets. The customary methods of tackling tough transportation questions may no longer be applicable to today’s challenges.”
We’ll be attending and live-tweeting the Symposium (hashtag: #SRHD), and we’re very excited to hear the speakers.
The symposium will begin with a presentation by Andrew Dannenberg, Co-editor of “Making Healthy Places: Designing and Building for Health, Well-being, and Sustainability“ (learn more about it from the publisher). Dannenberg will discuss “the latest research on how transportation planning impacts the health of our communities.” Dannenberg is a consultant to and former team leader of the Healthy Community Design Initiative at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Environmental Health; he is also an affiliate professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences and in the Department of Urban Design and Planning at the University of Washington in Seattle, where he teaches courses on healthy community design and on health impact assessment. One reviewer of the book notes “This book explores how the built environment continues to impact on health (and consequently life chances) and sets out how planners, policy makers, designers and educators can influence this dynamic and engage with the ‘perfect storm of intersecting health, environmental, and economic challenges’.”
Additional speakers bring a particular expertise and focus:
- Chris Comeau, with the City of Bellingham, will discuss expectations for multimodal transportation levels of service.
- Bob Bengford, of MAKERS Architecture and Urban design, will share strategies for using transportation infrastructure for place making. MAKERS is a Seattle-based “multi-disciplinary firm practicing planning, urban design, and architecture at the highest quality.”
- Paul Moore, of Nelson Nygaard (a “transportation planning firm” with a focus on sustainability), will present best management practices and design standards for accessible transportation.
- Kendra Breiland, of Fehr & Peers (a “transportation and traffic engineering consulting firm”) will give examples of what great communities are doing right and how to take advantage of these tactics.
While APA’s reasons for involvement in transportation issues are pretty obvious, a health district’s involvement and jurisdiction may be less obvious.
The Spokane Regional Health District is mission charged by state law “to unite the region’s cities and county in a cooperative effort to oversee all matters pertaining to public health.” That covers a lot of territory, so we thought we’d provide three concrete examples of how the SRHD is involved:
- Partnered with a broad spectrum of community groups and leaders on active transportation projects: Complete Streets, City of Spokane Valley Bike and Pedestrian Plan, Safe Routes to School, City of Spokane Pedestrian Plan.
- Worked on Safe Routes to Schools in collaboration with school administrators, staff, parents and children and the State DOT.
- Partnered with the City of Spokane to implement an Health Impacts Assessment on the proposed University District Bike and Pedestrian Bridge.
Learn more about SRHD’s work on physical activity issues here: http://www.srhd.org/services/activity.asp
Here some resources on the topic that we found through a quick scan (in addition to our older story, “What’s the Latest Research in Transportation and Health?“ Did we miss a great resource? Do you know of a good conference or meeting on the topic? Let us know and we’ll add it.
The American Public Health Association offers several fact sheets on the transportation – health connection (scroll down to “transportation”).
In 2010 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified transportation policies that can have profound positive impact on health. Skim the summary webpage, or view the 11-page Report (pdf) or a 2-page Fact Sheet (pdf).
In 2011 the CDC released “Transportation and Health: Policy Interventions for Safer, Healthier People and Communities.” This report examines the effects of transportation policies on public health in three key areas: environment and environmental public health, community design and active transportation, and motor vehicle-related injuries and fatalities.
In June 2013 Todd Littman published “If Health Matters: Integrating Public Health Objectives in Transportation Planning,” (37-page pdf). Littman notes that “Conventional planning tends to consider some public health impacts. . . . [and] undervalue strategies that reduce total vehicle travel and increase transport system diversity. This study identifies various “win-win” strategies that help improve public health and achieve other planning objectives.”
This report is older (2006), but looks like interesting reading: “Transport, Environment and Health,” (pdf) from the World Health Organization. It ”brings together the scientific evidence on the main effects of transport on human health and the environment. It sets the conceptual framework for future analyses of the health burden and health gains from transport policies.” The report includes some topics we have seen rarely addressed: noise, and mental health, in addition to the “usual suspects” of air pollution and injuries/fatalities