In this age of federal budget cuts, transportation will be no exception. Earlier this month, John Mica, Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, released his proposal for reauthorizing the long overdue surface transportation act. Although the proposal has both positives and negatives, it focuses heavily on the highway system and eliminates or consolidates many programs that impact public health and safety.
The transportation bill is an important avenue for improving public health and safety. It funds programs that modify our environment to make physical activity easier and more convenient for millions of Americans. The real or perceived inability to safely walk or bike to near destinations keeps people in their cars and sedentary — the result is traffic congestion, air pollution, and bigger waistlines. Safe Routes to Schools, Transportation Enhancement Program, Recreational Trails Program, and others are on the chopping block. The transportation act also funds public transit systems, which are relied upon by those who cannot or chose not to drive and reduce air pollution by taking cars off the road.
Policymakers debating tough issues, such as what to fund and what to cut, need information on the health ramifications of their decisions. While some might say that health doesn’t belong in the transportation act, the truth is that many policies impact health, a concept that has gained traction among public health leaders. Harnessing the power of seemingly irrelevant policies could help the nation efficiently and more cheaply improve health and stave off chronic disease than funding expensive health care programs.
Partnership for Prevention today released a report that adds to the growing body of evidence that ‘health in all policies’ is an important concept to embrace. Transportation and Health: Policy Interventions for Safer, Healthier People and Communities contains transportation policy options and summarizes the science on how they impact health. The three areas examined are: the environment and environmental health, community design and active transportation, and motor vehicle-related injuries and fatalities. Policymakers at all levels that are faced with hard decisions regarding transportation can use this report to inform their decision-making.
Alyson Hazen Kristensen, MPH
Senior Fellow & Program Officer