Centers for Disease Control: Transportation Reform is Health Reform

The connection between transportation and public health has slowly edged into the mainstream since Streetsblog Capitol Hill began covering it last year, first through a billion-dollar grant program added to Congress’ sprawling health care bill and now in a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) brief that connects existing U.S. infrastructure with chronic disease, obesity, and premature deaths.

090828_helmet_ap_206.jpgPresident Obama, shown biking with his daughters — one of the CDC’s recommendations to enhance public health. (Photo: AP via Politico)

The CDC brief, quietly released late last month, offers seven recommendations aimed at making public health a greater priority for transportation policymakers:

  • Pass road safety laws, such as those requiring child safety harnesses and prohibiting texting behind the wheel;
  • Increase funding for air quality improvement projects and clean diesel projects that limit vehicle emissions;
  • Encourage more transit-oriented development and transit expansion;
  • Require streetscapes to be designed for bicyclists and pedestrians as well as drivers, the principle known as "complete streets";
  • Support local planning and zoning rules that promote mixed-use construction in denser neighborhoods;
  • Revamp road design practices to minimize auto speeds and increase pedestrian and bicyclist safety;
  • Increase data collection and research about the transportation-health relationship

In addition, the CDC outlines the grim consequences that can be expected from the nation’s transportation status quo:

  • Physical activity and active transportation have declined
    compared to previous generations.  The lack of physical activity is a
    major contributor to the steady rise in rates of obesity, diabetes,
    heart disease, stroke and other chronic health conditions in the United
    States.
  • Motor vehicle crashes continue to be the leading
    cause of injury-related death for many age groups.  Pedestrians and
    bicyclists are at an even greater risk of death from crashes than those
    who travel by motor vehicles.
  • Many Americans view walking
    and bicycling within their communities as unsafe because of traffic and
    the lack of sidewalks, crosswalks, and bicycle facilities.
  • Although
    using public transportation has historically been safer than highway
    travel in light duty vehicles, highway travel has grown more quickly
    than other modes of travel. 
  • A lack of efficient
    alternatives to automobile travel disproportionately affects vulnerable
    populations such as the poor, the elderly, people who have disabilities
    and children by limiting access to jobs, health care, social
    interaction, and healthy foods.
  • Although motor vehicle
    emissions have decreased significantly over the past three decades, air
    pollution from motor vehicles continues to contribute to the
    degradation of our environment and adverse respiratory and
    cardiovascular health effects.
  • Transportation accounts for approximately one-third of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions contributing to climate change.

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