Integration of Health & Transportation at the Regional Level

Stephanie WeberThose of us who have been in the field of bicycle and pedestrian advocacy for a while are quite familiar with the growing body of research connecting health to the built environment. Another resource was published this month: a recent report from the National Association of Regional Councils (NARC) highlights how metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) and regional councils of governments (COG) are integrating public health into transportation planning. The report, Integrating Public Health and Transportation Planning: Perspectives for MPOs and COGs, highlights ways in which a sampling of regional governments is incorporating health elements into their transportation decisions. 

While health might not be one of the eight distinct factors that regional governments are federally mandated to address, decision-makers increasingly recognize how important this particular element is. 

The report provides information on ways in which certain regional governments have incorporated health. One of the more common ways is to include public health factors into the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) or processes for performance measurement. They cite the Boston MPO’s integration of the Massachusetts Healthy Transportation Compact (HTC). 

They also share the successful example of the Nashville MPO that has actually set aside 15 percent of its Urban Surface Transportation Program specifically for active transportation elements. Furthermore, each of these MPOs has recently reorganized, creating new departments—Liveability Programs—to acknowledge and address the growing importance of a systematic approach to regional planning. 

Within the regional network project, we are realizing the impact of health in our efforts as well. The NARC report actually references the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) efforts to include health, and we have been actively engaged in those efforts (see Christine Green’s blog). We are also watching the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) reorganize on the heels of its Spring 2012 adoption of its Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) to better reflect active transportation (and health) elements. 

The connection between health and transportation is critical, and it is exciting to see decision-makers at all levels embrace this connection. The benefits are (and will continue to be) significant.