A framework for incorporating health in transportation corridor planning

By Mary Ebeling

As part of an ongoing effort to raise the profile of the interaction of transportation infrastructure and health, FHWA recently released a new tool. The Health in Transportation Corridor Planning Framework can be found on FHWA’s Health in Transportation website. The tool offers a step-by-step and scalable framework for transportation professionals seeking to include health considerations into their corridor planning activities. The Framework offers a much needed tool for DOTs, MPOs, and other agencies and adds value for a site that already includes a wealth of links and resources related to improving transportation health outcomes.

The Framework identifies four transportation and health priority areas and calls out six steps for evaluating alternatives and making decisions for transportation corridors through a health lens.

Priority Area Health Issue
Active transportation Obesity, body mass index, chronic disease
Air quality Respiratory/pulmonary disease, asthma
Safety Injury prevention, aging
Equity All health issues

Source: http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/livability/newsletter/april_2016/index.cfm

The six steps identified include:

  1. Define transportation and public health issues.
  2. Identify transportation and health needs, resources, and priorities.
  3. Develop goals and objectives that promote health in the community.
  4. Establish evaluation criteria that include public health.
  5. Develop and evaluate alternatives and their health impacts.
  6. Identify alternatives that support health in the community.

To test the Framework, five agencies applied the tool in a corridor study. These case studies from across the country are helpful for others seeking to use the Framework. The East Central Wisconsin Regional Plan Commission (East Central) conducted one of the Framework tests on a 4.5 mile section of College Avenue.
The College Avenue corridor includes multiple jurisdictions, urban and rural roadway cross-sections, and an impressive list of stakeholders. As the gateway to the City of Appleton, the multiple partners agreed on the need to improve the corridor; the challenge was agreeing on the details. East Central successfully capitalized on existing working relationships to help open a productive conversation about addressing health outcomes in the College Avenue corridor. Notably, this case study marks the first time WisDOT and the state Department of Health Services have worked together to discuss roadway improvements.
Melissa Kraemer-Badtke, Principal Planner/Safe Routes to School Coordinator at East Central and the project manager for the College Avenue case study notes that the College Avenue study is already having an impact. Silos between stakeholders are breaking down as coordination and mutual understanding develop. Additionally, STP funds have been awarded for the county section, and the different agencies are working together to change how health is considered in project design and delivery.
The health impacts of our transportation system are receiving increasing attention from transportation practitioners, the public, the health care industry, and active transportation advocates. The new Framework offers guidance for state DOTs, MPOs, and cities working to incorporate health objectives into corridor planning. The flexible tool can be applied at any point in the corridor development process, so corridor projects already underway may still benefit from the evaluation and intervention tools provided by the Framework.
Mary Ebeling is a Transportation Policy Analyst at SSTI.