Health is important to transportation decisions

A few weeks ago the Inaugural Health Impact Assessment Meeting was held in D.C. and the presentations from this meeting were just posted online. For those unfamiliar with health impact assessment (HIA), it is a method to incorporate health into decision making. HIA recognizes that health is more than healthcare and that the environment that we live in and policies at all levels of government impact our health.

The goal of an HIA is to inform decision making. Persons affected by the decision should be involved and the results taken into account by the decision makers. HIAs have been completed on living wage ordinances, neighborhood redevelopment, light rail lines, zoning codes and the federal farm bill.

A great walking and bicycling HIA example is the Clark County Public Health HIA on the Clark County Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan (CCBPMP). Bicycle and pedestrian master plans or the bicycle and pedestrian chapter in the transportation master plan guide the infrastructure, networks, connections and policy for walking and bicycling in the community. The plans often have robust community input and are used to prioritize projects to be built. The Clark County HIA prioritized projects, policies and programs in the CCMPBP to maximize health benefits for all county residents.

The HIA was successful in including transportation for health as a goal of the plan. The goal specifically reads “Active Transportation Planning and Bicycle-and-Pedestrian-Supportive Land Uses.” As a result of the HIA, the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee will now review projects in the planning stage. A huge success of the HIA was the change in project selection criteria. The criteria now includes health and equity. Twenty points of the 100 points available are awarded based on socioeconomic status, walkability potential, street connectivity and low-stress facilities such as off-street trails.

The HIA resulted in important policy steps. Project review by the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee and the new project selection criteria are now incorporated into routine business. It is clear when diverse partners are at the table, outcomes are better. Community residents most in need of bicycle and pedestrian improvements are prioritized. The entire community will have access to better networks resulting in the ability to safely choose active transportation.

At least two health departments in the Greater Washington region are tackling built environment issues as well. Check back for more to come! For more information on health impact assessment, please see the Health Impact Project website.

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