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Metropolitan Area Transportation Planning for Healthy Communities

Chapter 4: Conclusion

The purpose of this report is to provide a resource for Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) and their transportation and public health partners interested in incorporating broadly-based considerations of public health into the metropolitan area transportation planning process. The paper provides the planning and policy context for considering public health and evaluates best practice examples from MPOs. The project team used information from these innovative examples to develop a broad framework for how MPOs and their partners might successfully include more specific health considerations in the planning process and in the resulting plans and investment decisions. The paper is also intended to highlight how Federal agencies are supporting this practice through evolving policies, tools, and funding opportunities. In addition to being a resource for MPOs, the paper is also a resource to assist U. S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) staff to strengthen health considerations in USDOT activities, including in discussions as part of planning oversight, capacity building, technical assistance, and research.

Main Findings

The four case studies and the broad scan of additional MPO examples demonstrate that although each MPO may have a unique experience, approach, and set of actors involved in incorporating health in their planning activities, the planning processes, strategies, and challenges are very similar. Each case study incorporates health into the planning process at different stages and to varying degrees, with some formally bringing health into the Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) and the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) and others involving health in supporting activities, such as stakeholder outreach and technical analysis. The approaches for integrating health into MPO planning, and the stages in which MPOs do so, are dependent upon each region's politics, priorities, partners, and larger context. However, the research demonstrates that MPOs follow a general framework and pattern of evolution for their planning processes, as outlined in Chapter 3: Case Studies that can help other MPOs similarly bring health considerations into their own planning processes. Some of the main themes that the case studies identified, and which are reflected in the framework, are as follows:

Next Steps and Recommendations

This study focused on MPO-level planning and on the MPO staff perspective, offering high-level considerations, opportunities, and lessons for MPOs involved in health and transportation planning. A follow-up study could translate some of the findings of this research into a resource guide for MPOs and their partners with specific action steps for integrating transportation into MPO TIPs, LRTPs, corridor and modal studies, and other formal planning activities, combined with practical examples and references. In addition to the activities documented at the MPO level, the project team will undertake a second phase focusing on incorporation of health considerations in the statewide transportation planning process by Departments of Transportation and their partners, with a focus on rural areas. This will be the subject of a separate, follow-up study. The FHWA and Volpe Center research team will also participate in future initiatives related to this research, including: development by the USDOT Office of the Secretary and the Centers for Disease Control of an index tool to assist MPOs and DOTs to consider health in transportation planning; activities of the TRB Health and Transportation Sub-committee, including its mid-year webinar; a webinar for the FHWA Surface Transportation Environment and Planning Cooperative Research Program (STEP); and the White House Roundtable on Transportation and Health.

As much as it is important to capture how public health considerations are being successfully and innovatively incorporated in the MPO planning process, it is also important to understand how transportation considerations are being incorporated or might more completely be incorporated into public health activities. Many of the participants from the case studies were interested in learning about each other's work and exchanging information and perspectives; toward that end, there may be a potential need to develop additional training and best practices resources, perhaps with a focus on specific emerging topics, such as access to healthy foods or medical services or use of technical tools, including models and performance measures. Communities, metropolitan areas, and States that will have the greatest impacts on public health will be those in which transportation and public health agencies jointly consider and pursue transportation and public health goals, and in which planning and decision-making are approached collaboratively, by both types of organizations.

Updated: 9/19/2016
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