Transportation and health: Policy interventions for safer, healthier people and communities

A newly published report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Partnership for Prevention, in conjunction with Booz Allen Hamilton and the Safe Transportation Research and Education Center (SafeTREC) at UC Berkeley examines the impact of transportation policies in three critical areas of public health: the environment and environmental health; community design and active transportation; and motor vehicle-related injuries and fatalities.

One hundred years ago cars were a new addition to streetscapes that included horses, carts, bicycles, and pedestrians. Throughout the 20th Century, the increasing focus on auto transportation changed the face of streets and highways dramatically. Our current system of roads and highways was built with an almost exclusive focus on motor vehicles and only recently has attention been given to alternative modes of travel. However, auto travel is still king in America and it has an effect on the health of its subjects.

The report summarizes information on the health effects of transportation policies and provides guidance to policy makers working to identify policy solutions to transportation-related public health issues.

For example, the authors suggest several policy options to provide better connectivity to pedestrians and bicyclists in order to enhance community design and promote active transportation, including:

  • Encourage block size limits that are conducive to walking—residents in neighborhoods with shorter block lengths, such as those in many older U.S. cities, tend to walk to more of their destinations than residents of more suburban areas with long blocks and numerous cul-de-sacs;
  • Encourage appropriate location of key community destinations to increase bicycle/pedestrian connectivity—locating key destinations, such as schools, grocery stores, and shopping areas, close to the populations they serve by fostering compact mixed use development, is associated with higher rates of active travel; and
  • Incentivize land use patterns that are conducive to bicycle/pedestrian connectivity—tax incentives, expedited permits, and fee or regulatory relief can all be used to incentivize denser, mixed-use development that will be more accessible for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Each of these policy options make walking and biking more attractive options, resulting in greater levels of physical activity throughout the population and a reduction in the monetary, environmental, and public health costs associated with motor vehicle travel.