Streetsmart News. Vol. 14, 2019
Evidence and Insight for Better Transportation
Transportation is much more than mobility
The purpose of transportation is far more than mobility. Mobility is about the ease of travel, but this does not address the underlying need behind transportation—to reach destinations or opportunities. A resident can live in an area of high mobility but still have poor accessibility if important destinations, such as grocery stores, employment, or health care services, are not nearby. For the US DOT, accessibility (they call it connectivity) means asking the following questions: “How well does the transportation network provide access to essential services and destinations? How easily, affordably, and reliably can people connect to the places they need to go?”
The concept of access to destinations (aka accessibility or connectivity) reflects the theory that transportation is derived demand. That is, transportation is generally not undertaken for its own sake, but for the purpose of accessing destinations. Transportation systems necessarily need to be coordinated with land use systems to optimize for accessibility. Including land use in the transportation playbook increases the number of possible solutions available to address transportation problems. Rather than relying on traditional solutions such as roadway capacity projects, planners and engineers can instead explore transportation demand management, zoning changes, or urban design solutions. Not only can these solutions yield accessibility improvements, but also they may offer other benefits to communities, such as increased opportunities for physical activity or attracting commercial development.
How is access to destinations measured?
Planning for increased access to destinations requires a different set of planning and evaluation tools than those used for mobility-based planning efforts. Rather than tracking Level-of-Service (see our last issue for why this is problematic), transportation professionals need to undertake an accessibility analysis. This is generally a Geographic Information Systems-based analysis that examines the number and type of opportunities within a specific distance of residents’ homes. There are several methods for undertaking this analysis. Here are links to two State Smart Transportation Institute (SSTI) webinars that discuss accessibility and the ways to measure it: Measuring Accessible and Connected Communities and Operationalizing Accessibility . They also helped produce a guidebook for accessibility in practice.
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Transportation is a social determinant of health
As we’ve mentioned, transportation is more than mobility—among other things, it has significant impacts on population health. Thousands of people are killed or seriously injured as a result of the transportation system every year; pedestrians, low-income people, and racial minorities are disproportionately impacted. Transportation facilitates active living or alternatively, encourages sedentary lifestyles that increase risk for chronic disease. Motorized vehicles generate air pollutants and contribute to cardiovascular and respiratory disease, which disproportionately affects low-income people and racial minorities. Additionally, the transportation sector is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the US.
Transportation is therefore a social determinant of health . The social determinants of health (SDoH) is a framework (specifically, an ecological model) that recognizes an individual’s health status is influenced by factors at many levels. One such factor is the design of our cities and communities, including our transportation systems. Critical to a SDoH or ecological approach is the recognition that taking action only at the individual level is not enough to make meaningful changes in the health of the population as this article with Blue Zones founder, Dan Buettner, explains.
Differences in neighborhoods have meaningful effects on health outcomes. Research shows that estimates for life expectancy is significantly different between zip codes (explore the life expectancy estimates of your zip code at this Robert Wood Johnson Foundation site )—these are effects connected to place, not just from the aggregation of individual health indicators.
Transportation is an essential component for creating better health; that is, we can’t expect to improve population health without creating healthy transportation systems. What, then, is healthy transportation? Healthy transportation maximizes community health by providing people with options for active travel, minimizes exposure to harmful pollutants, supports mental health, and provides affordable and accessible travel options for people to reach essential goods and services.
H/T to Todd Litman and the ITE Health and Transportation Working Group for a definition of healthy transportation.
How health care providers can support healthy transportation
Creating healthy transportation systems is not reserved for transportation planners. Health care providers can play a role in creating healthy built environments. In Klamath Falls, Oregon, health care providers identified hot spots of chronic disease through a Geographic Information Systems analysis with funding from the Cambria Health Foundation. To address this challenge, they decided that the most effective intervention would be one that increased physical activity through active transportation. Working with transportation planners and community members, this idea became the Oregon Avenue Protected Bike Lane project. The purpose of this project was to combat the high rates of chronic disease by addressing a key social determinant of health as well as promote economic activity the area.
Funding for the bicycle lane was provided by the City of Klamath Falls and, in an innovative move, the Coordinated Care Organization (CCO) in that area, Cascade Health Alliance (CCOs organize health care providers to support Medicare and Medicaid members, with a focus on prevention). For more details about this innovative partnership between transportation planners, community members, public health professionals, and health care providers, check out this case study written by the Oregon Department of Transportation.
H/T to Josh Roll at ODOT for alerting us to this project and case study report.
We get it. Civic leaders struggle to find the evidence they need to evaluate and prioritize transportation investments. The research is scattered, time-consuming to find, and difficult to digest. We do all the work of synthesizing the research and presenting in an intuitive and easy-to-use format, without compromising quality or rigor. 

Civic leaders need to make the case for solutions that work best for their community, which sometimes requires defending innovation. Streetsmart reduces risk by providing the evidence and examples of what works in other communities. We’ve got your back. 

Find success stories with key lessons learned in one easy-to-search place. Why re-invent the wheel? Streetsmart offers insight via case studies and guidebooks relevant to each topic area. Learn from others in the trenches working on issues similar to yours.
  • Got burning questions about a transportation topic? Get in touch and make suggestions for articles in upcoming issues of the Streetsmart newsletter.
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