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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

New Report Offers Framework for Integrating Health and Transportation

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A new report geared toward state Departments of Transportation (DOTs) provides a framework for DOTs to integrate public health considerations into their transportation planning and decision making.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) report Statewide Transportation Planning for Healthy Communities, written by Volpe, shows how state DOTs can consider health across their wide range of activities, including transportation planning, programs, and interagency initiatives.

“The report can be used as food for thought for DOTs and their partners, particularly public health organizations,” said Volpe project manager William Lyons, a principal technical advisor in transportation planning. It includes best practices and examples of innovation by state DOTs and their transportation and public health partners, and recommendations for how DOTs can more actively bring health considerations into their planning.

A Holistic Approach to Health

This is the second report in this series, following on the heels of a 2012 FHWA report that focused on metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs). Eloisa Raynault, lead transportation staffer at the American Public Health Association and co-chair of the Transportation Research Board Health and Transportation Subcommittee, called the 2012 report a “game changer,” said Lyons.

Image of a bicycle wheel that incorporates the words "access," "air quality," "activity," and "safety" as spokes in the wheel.The newest report adapts the framework from the previous study on MPOs to fit the needs and context of state DOTs and their partners.

This framework takes a holistic approach to health that focuses, in particular, on the emerging topics of active transportation and access to healthy destinations, and also includes the well-established topics of safety and air quality.

Five Case Studies

Statewide Transportation Planning for Healthy Communities examines trends, lessons learned, and opportunities based on case studies of DOTs and their partners in five states:

  • California
  • Iowa
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • North Carolina

In selecting these states, the project team was looking for DOTs that are comprehensive, explicit, and forward-looking in their consideration of health. These case study agencies consider health in both statewide and metropolitan area planning through related programs and initiatives, such as Safe Routes to School and Complete Streets, and at key decision points in their planning. This includes scenario and long-range planning, assessment of investment options, and performance management.

Children walk to school accompanied by adults.
Children travel to school via a “walking school bus” as part of the Northeast Iowa Safe Routes to School Program. (Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Coalition photo)

In Massachusetts, one of the case study states, MassDOT collaborates with state offices focused on health goals, including public health, energy, environment, and health and human services agencies. For example, staff from MassDOT serve on the Department of Public Health’s (DPH) Wellness Promotion Advisory Board, and DPH staff are similarly positioned on MassDOT committees, such as the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board and the Safe Routes to School Task Force.

This collaboration helps embed interagency viewpoints on health and transportation into each organization’s planning and decision making and fosters information and idea exchange between agencies.

The report notes that such partnerships are one of the key opportunities that DOTs can consider in integrating health and transportation.

Next Steps: Phase Three

The first two reports in this healthy communities series examine the broader transportation planning process, including long-range plans and performance monitoring, noted Lyons. FHWA and Volpe are planning a third phase of research to examine how transportation planning can apply data, performance indicators, and forecast models to consider health.

The U.S. DOT Office of the Secretary and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are using these reports to develop an analytical tool that helps DOTs and MPOs incorporate health in transportation planning.

“It’s an unusual collaboration between the CDC and DOT,” said Lyons, noting that the two agencies typically work in different realms—health and transportation, respectively—with different partner agencies, policies, and programs. “This is an opportunity for them to collaborate and expand how they develop transportation projects that incorporate community health.”

A bicyclist travels along a dedicated bike lane on a paved road in California.
Active transportation, which supports healthy activities like walking and bicycling, is a primary consideration for Caltrans, one of five state DOTs highlighted in this new report. (Caltrans photo)