Why should public health professionals be involved in transportation planning?
Because the way our roads and public transit systems are designed has a lot to do with our health: it influences how much exercise we get, our exposure to noise and air pollution, our risk of getting into traffic accidents, and more. This fact sheet discusses the important link between transportation planning and health, describes the key players and processes of local and regional transportation planning, and suggests steps you can take to advocate effectively for healthier transportation policies.
What is Transportation Planning?
While transportation planning has long centered around the concept of “mobility” (moving people from place to place), recent focus has begun shifting to “access,” or ensuring that people can easily reach jobs, education, and other daily needs. Transportation planners design our streets and sidewalks, highways, and public transit networks. Agency decisions are made at all levels, from the city to the federal government.
Their choices have a significant impact on chronic disease rates, air quality, and equitable access to services and economic opportunities. Transportation planning decisions can help improve residents’ health by promoting bicycling and walking, focusing on access to food shopping and other daily needs (especially for vulnerable populations such as low-income, elderly, and disabled), and conceiving of neighborhoods as destinations rather than funnels for cars and other vehicles.
Transportation planning funds come from the federal government and state, regional, and local agencies. During the 1950s and ’60s, when the majority of our interstate highway system was built, state and federal gasoline taxes were sufficient to cover the full costs of road construction. But gas taxes have not kept pace with inflation, forcing local and regional governments to seek other sources of funding, such as bonds or local taxes, to maintain and expand transportation systems.
In more urbanized areas, local governments have been able to create more funding sources to meet transportation goals. Only a third of the Bay Area’s transportation budget, for example, comes from the federal and state government combined. By contrast, in rural communities, where local and regional agencies issue fewer taxes and bonds, federal and state government funding may account for as much as two-thirds of the budget for transportation spending.
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