According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, transportation agencies play an important role in public health by encouraging healthy community design, promoting opportunities for physical activity by supporting active transportation infrastructure, reducing human exposure to air pollution, reducing injuries associated with motor vehicle crashes, and ensuring that community members have equal access to safe, healthy, convenient and affordable transportation.
The Federal Highway Administration is focusing on public health in transportation through partnerships between health practitioners and transportation professionals. Goals of these efforts including promoting safety; improving air quality; advancing Context Sensitive Solutions; improving access to jobs, health care and other services; and advancing multi-modal and active transportation options including walking, biking, public transportation and ride-sharing.
To further these goals across the nation, the U.S. DOT has developed a Transportation and Health Tool that provides data on transportation and public health indicators for each U.S. state and metropolitan area that describe how the transportation environment affects safety, active transportation, air quality, and connectivity to destinations. The tool provides strategies that transportation practitioners can use to further improve health benefits such as safe bicycling and walking infrastructure, expanding public transportation, integrating health and environmental planning, adopting programs such as Safe Routes to School, and adopting health performance metrics.
Roadway safety also is an important public health consideration for transportation. FHWA has recognized that “using effective safety countermeasures and encouraging safe behaviors by all road users can reduce the number of fatalities and injuries. This is particularly important for vulnerable road users like pedestrians, bicyclists, children, and older adults.”
The “Toward Zero Deaths” vision has been embraced by FHWA as well as a number of states and cities. According to FHWA, “the approach targets areas for improvement and employs proven countermeasures, integrating application of education, enforcement, engineering, and emergency medical and trauma services (the ‘4Es’).” FHWA administers the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries on public roads. It requires that each state develop a Strategic Highway Safety Plan. A wide range of additional safety-related information is available on FHWA’s Safety website.
In addition to safety and active transportation options that promote healthy lifestyles, other important health issues in transportation include:
- improving air quality by reducing vehicle emissions; particular benefits are seen in children, older adults, and individuals with respiratory diseases.
- providing affordable and convenient transportation options that enable access to goods, services and opportunities that improve quality of life.
- reducing transportation-related noise to reduce health effects like hearing loss, sleep disturbances, and other impacts associated with noise exposure.
State DOTs are working to incorporate these health considerations into their projects, programs and policies. Examples include Massachusetts DOT’s Healthy Transportation Compact and California DOT’s Active Transportation Program. A Transportation and Health Peer Exchange was convened by AASHTO in 2015 to share best practices and resources among state DOTs.