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Two Worlds, One Goal

posted on Mon, Jul 22 2013 2:49 pm by Ed Christopher

The connections between health and transportation are varied and well documented. The confluence of the two is at the core of the recently formed Transportation Research Board (TRB) Subcommittee on Health and Transportation (H+T). Organized in the Summer of 2011, the H+T Subcommittee is sponsored by four parent committees: the committees on Urban Data and Information Systems, Travel Behavior and Values, Transportation and Sustainability, and Environmental Justice in Transportation. The Subcommittee was formed to provide a place for those doing transportation-related health research to share and vet their work in a professional, academic arena.

The mission of the H+T Subcommittee is to identify, advance and publish research and information to expand and improve current understanding and evaluation of the health impacts of federal, state, regional and local transportation policies, procedures and actions.

Our scope includes a wide array of topics designed to cover diverse impacts and issues related to health, with attention given to vulnerable populations. Topics include, but are not limited to:

  • sustainable and active transportation modes (e.g., walking, biking, transit),
  • mobility and accessibility,
  • safety,
  • freight and aviation impacts to health,
  • transportation-related air pollution and noise impacts,
  • social cohesion and other social, physical and mental health impacts,
  • the distribution of those health impacts in the population (based on factors including income, race and ethnicity, sex, age and English proficiency), and
  • the use of Health Impact Assessments (HIAs) and other health metrics and indicators to advance the consideration of health impacts in transportation decision-making. 

We bring together a variety of disciplines (e.g., engineers, public health professionals, planners, epidemiologists, economists, advocates, elected officials, and academics) to advance this scope and consider approaches to maximizing health benefits and addressing potential adverse impacts of transportation planning and policy decisions through engineering and design solutions.

Examples of these approaches can be found in a recent article in Public Roads, a publication of the Federal Highway Administration, which explored efforts by State Departments of Transportation and Metropolitan Planning Organizations around the country to address public health issues. In Massachusetts and Minnesota, transportation officials are exploring infrastructures that allow for “active transportation” — like walking and bicycling — which can help prevent weight gain and lower the risks of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. In Washington and California, programs are incorporating transit-oriented development strategies to improve environmental health and access to healthy foods.

The H+T Subcommittee serves as a focal point for transportation issues and their health impacts, both positive and negative, by reviewing and publishing research, sponsoring paper calls, and developing research proposals to contribute to the knowledge base; all through the use of a variety of communication methods. Our website houses the emerging research, its newsletters, various resources and to serve as a nucleus for the community. To help bring the health and transportation communities together there is also a “Friends List” listserve that anyone can join, and even a Twitter (@TRBhealth), Facebook Group and Linkedin presence.

Want to know more? Interested in the topic? Visit our Website and join in the discussion.

This blog post was prepared by Ed Christopher, Co-chair of the TRB Subcommittee on Health and Transportation. This post is first in a series exploring the intersections between transportation and public health.

The Network for Public Health Law provides information and technical assistance on issues related to public health. The legal information and assistance provided in this document does not constitute legal advice or legal representation. For legal advice, readers should consult a lawyer in their state. The views expressed in this post do not represent those of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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