A strong transportation system is the foundation for a community. As we discussed in our recent post, The Economic Benefits of a Strong Comprehensive Transportation System, strong comprehensive transportation systems have ripple effects, improving many different aspects of a community. A modern, multi-modal transportation system can improve a community’s economy, inclusivity, environmental impact and more.
We sat down with public health expert Tina Reynolds, Health Policy director at the Michigan Environmental Council to learn about the relationship between public health and transportation. Reynolds highlighted three of the priority issues that connect transportation and public health today: lowering obesity rates through pedestrian safety, access to healthy food and improving air quality.
Lowering Obesity Rates through Pedestrian Safety and Access to Healthy Food
One of the most evident outcomes of a better comprehensive transportation system is a more active community. Reynolds explained that a top priority in public health policy in Michigan lowering obesity rates, especially for children. A modern multi-modal transportation system cuts at the issue in many different ways.
It creates safe and accessible opportunities for individuals to move throughout their communities using modes that promote physical activity – walking, biking and using public transit. Complete Streets, Safe Routes to School, Vulnerable User’s Protection Legislation (a campaign headed by the League of Michigan Bicyclists) and Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) are a few examples of policies and initiatives that are working to create safe and accessible opportunities for physical activity through more diverse transportation options in Michigan. In general, opportunities for people to utilize public transit, walk and bike to get around creates a more active culture and reduces road congestion which leads to high stress, traffic crashes and a sedentary culture.
Obesity rates can be partially attributed to the lack of access to healthy food, an issue that is tied to transportation. Many public health advocates work with public transit providers, transportation authorities or rideshare programs to create accessible routes to grocery stores and farmers’ markets, which are often lacking in low-income and minority communities. In these communities, many residents are left with only convenience stores and fast food restaurants for their food needs.
Health Impact Assessments (HIA) are now being performed on many transportation projects, similar to the Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) that have been performed on projects for decades. These assessments create standards for community projects, including transportation projects – such as highway expansions, bike trails or public transit routes – to assess how the project may protect and promote public health.
Improving Air Quality
Reynolds also explained that air quality is currently a priority in public health in Michigan. Presently, much of the work being done in this area is focused on indoor air quality, through the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative; however, many groups are beginning to realize that outdoor air quality is a major factor in overall community health. Asthma rates in many urban areas where air pollution from many sources is exacerbated by traffic congestion, continue to reach record highs and climb far above rates in rural areas. According to the Detroit Future City Framework, 29% of Detroit children suffer from asthma, a rate three times the national average. A comprehensive transportation system, lowers air pollution and improves environment and human health immensely.
Trans4M is made up of a diverse group of members, many of whom solely focus on the connection between community health and transportation. A modern multi-modal transportation system is important for a good quality of life in Michigan – which includes creating an active, healthy culture through transportation.
Written by Liz Treutel and Kajal Ravani, Trans4M Fellows