Frequently Asked Questions
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How does transportation affect public health?
A. The transportation system helps shape how communities operate, and it can have a profound influence - both positive and negative - on public health. Transportation impacts air pollution and the environment, communities, safety, physical activity, and access to jobs, services, healthcare, and recreational opportunities. When practitioners consider health in the transportation planning process, they can mitigate the negative health impacts of transportation by reducing air pollution, preventing traffic injuries and deaths, and promoting physical activity.
When properly planned and designed transportation can have a positive effect on public health. Today planners and engineers are working hard to accommodate or even encourage multi modal transportation, such as through complete streets policies that incorporate walking and biking.
How is the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) considering health in transportation decisionmaking?
A. While considering health is not explicitly part of the federally required transportation planning process, FHWA and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) recognize the impact of transportation infrastructure on public health, and support State departments of transportation (DOTs) and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) that consider health throughout the transportation planning process. To this end, FHWA recently published a report on the consideration of health throughout the MPO transportation planning process based on a series of four case studies. The resulting document, Metropolitan Area Transportation Planning for Healthy Communities, is a helpful resource that transportation planners can use to positively impact health through metropolitan transportation planning. Furthermore, FHWA supports improvement to livability and community health by funding transportation projects and sponsoring activities like the FHWA Livability Initiative.
What Federal transportation programs can help improve the health of communities?
A. A number of Federal initiatives, working groups, and funding programs are available to support transportation strategies that improve public health. U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) programs with connections to public health include:
- Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ): The Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program provides funds to State DOTs and MPOs for projects that reduce congestion and improve air quality.
- FTA Capital Investment Program: The FTA Capital Investment Program is the primary Federal funding mechanism for major investments in transit. Improvements funded through this program improve mode choice and opportunities to walk and bike.
- Partnership for Sustainable Communities: This partnership, consisting of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, USDOT, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is intended to help communities improve access to affordable housing, increase transportation options, and lower transportation costs while protecting the environment. The partnership's Livability Principles promote public health by aiming to improve air quality, provide access to basic needs, and enhance investment in healthy, safe and walkable neighborhoods.
- Highway Safety Improvement Program: The Highway Safety Improvement Program provides funding to State DOTs for the implementation of highway safety improvement projects on all public roads. Highway safety improvement projects can be either infrastructure (i.e. engineering countermeasures) or non-infrastructure projects (i.e. education, enforcement, data improvement), but must address a priority in the State's Strategic Highway Safety Plan, correct or improve a hazardous road location or feature or address a highway safety problem and contribute to a reduction in fatalities and serious injuries on all public roads.
- Transportation Alternatives Program: The Transportation Alternatives Program provides funding to States and MPOs to expand transportation options and enhance transportation experiences. Many eligible activities for funding address physical activity, safety, and access to health-related facilities. The Transportation Alternatives Program also funds projects on behalf of the Safe Routes to School and Recreational Trails Program programs.
For more information on these initiatives and other FHWA or FTA programs that intersect with public health, see FHWA's Moving Healthy: Linking FHWA Programs and Health.
How can transportation agencies incorporate health into transportation decisionmaking?
A. Health can be considered throughout the transportation planning and environmental review processes. Below are several examples of tools and opportunities to introduce health considerations directly into transportation decisions.
- Bicycle and Pedestrian System Plans: Many State DOTs and MPOs create bicycle and pedestrian plans. These plans may specifically feature goals to encourage physical activity, promote bicyclist or pedestrian safety, and improve access to transit, jobs, and health services. One example of a pedestrian and bicycle plan is the 2012 Eugene Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan.
- Congestion Management Process (CMP): The CMP is a systematic approach for the safe and effective management and operation of new and existing transportation facilities through the use of demand reduction and operational management strategies. The CMP can include strategies that promote active transportation and support the creation of environments that lead to safer and healthier communities.
- Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP): A State's LRTP details goals, policies, and objectives for its transportation system for a 20-year timeline. The LRTP must include opportunities for public involvement. States typically develop LRTPs with the support of one or more expert advisory committees. Many States have committees dedicated to issues that affect public health (e.g., air quality or active transportation).
- Metropolitan Transportation Plan (MTP): MPOs develop a MTP every four to five years to guide transportation system development over a 20-year planning horizon. The MTP presents a vision and goals for a region's transportation system, which can incorporate strategies to promote healthy communities.
- Strategic Highway Safety Plan (SHSP): States are required to develop an SHSP that outlines emphasis areas and strategies for reducing fatalities and serious injuries. SHSPs are developed by multi-disciplinary teams comprised of representatives from engineering, education, law enforcement, and emergency medical services.
What is a health impact assessment (HIA) and can it be used to evaluate transportation projects?
A. A Health Impact Assessment (HIA) is a tool that policymakers, community members, and planners can use to identify and address the potential health effects of a proposed transportation project or policy during the early stages of decisionmaking. An HIA is a method of evaluating the impacts policies, plans, programs, and projects on the health of populations. Because of the wide-ranging impact of transportation infrastructure, the application of HIAs to transportation policy and land use planning can lead to decisions that promote health in a number of different ways. HIAs are not required as part of the Federal-Aid planning or environmental review processes, but practitioners may prepare them voluntarily. For more information about HIAs, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Transportation HIA Toolkit.