Health equity in transportation decisions

Today, the American Public Health Association (APHA) held a webinar on public transportation and health. There were several statistics cited by APHA that we have probably heard many of these before but it is important to be reminded.

  • Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among persons 1-24 years old.
  • Children experience an increase in asthma and bronchitis symptoms when attending schools near freeways or major roads.
  • People living near heavily trafficked roadways have double the risk of death from heart or lung disease.
  • Public transit users get about 19 minutes of physical activity a day.
  • Transit riders are shown to have lower levels of stress than automobile drivers.
  • One-third of people living in this country cannot access or afford to access basic needs.
  • The poorest 5th of US families pay 42% of their income to own and drive a car.

Most of these statistics point out that equity is important in transportation work. The numbers show that transportation mode is not a choice for everyone. In addition to not being able to reach a necessary location, there are real health consequences of school and housing location. Location determines mode choice and therefore can contribute to physical activity. But it determines other health factors too. Schools and homes located near freeways or major roads increase health symptoms and risks. The majority of the people feeling those health consequences are low-income communities and communities of color.

Transportation decisions are multifaceted. A priority in decision making should be to consider the impacts of those decisions on health and who in the population is bearing the burden of those impacts. Health Impact Assessment (HIA) is one tool that considers health in decision making. Previously, no one thought about transportation as a health issue,  the location of a school or the proximity of a school to a highway. Research is now showing we should-both for access and for health.

This webinar was the first in a series of APHA webinars on health and transportation. For the slides of today’s presentation and more information see the APHA website.

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