Transportation Advocates Drive Home the Message: Federal Support Needed for Health-Oriented Transportation Policies
During 2002 and 2003, staff at the Surface Transportation Policy Project worked to educate opinion leaders, policy-makers and the public about the impact of transportation policies on the public's health.
During the grant, the Policy Project:
- Produced two reports for public release:
- Mean Streets 2002, available online, highlights the connection between pedestrian fatalities and spending on pedestrian infrastructure.
- Americans' Attitudes Toward Walking and Creating Better Walking Communities, available online, presents findings of a poll on the demand for a nonmotorized infrastructure.
- Conducted a workshop, "Connecting Transportation Policy with Physical Activity," January 11, 2003, in Washington, attended by 35 participants from the transportation and public health fields.
- Made 22 visits to members of Congress to inform them about the links between health and transportation, and developed two policy briefs for use in advocacy efforts.
- "Policy Recommendations for Transportation and Health," describes how transportation policy affects people's health and lists 10 policy recommendations.
- "Driving Factors: How Transportation Policy Affects Health," details how federal transportation policy can be used to enhance the nation's health.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) supported the project from May 2002 to February 2003 with a grant of $234,141.
Transportation policy can have a very negative impact on Americans attempting to integrate routine physical activity into their daily lives and can contribute to their increased sedentary behavior. Survey data from the Federal Highway Administration show that about 10 percent of children walked to school in 1995, down from 50 percent in 1969. Between 1990 and 2000, the proportion of the population that is obese or overweight jumped more than 60 percent. In the United States, according to estimates, physical inactivity contributes to more than 200,000 deaths each year and accounts for $76 billion in medical costs, according to the Surface Transportation Policy Project.
At the time of this grant, federal policy-makers anticipated a deadline for reauthorization of the nation's surface transportation law of September 30, 2003. The law provides states with more than $200 billion over the next five or six years for transportation and the rules by which to spend it. The grantee, the Surface Transportation Policy Project, a national nonprofit coalition of 650 local transportation advocates, has advocated for policy-makers to use the reauthorization process to create a balanced transportation system that enhances rather than undermines public health.
This project is part of an effort by RWJF to combat obesity in Americans especially among children through encouraging "active living," a way of life that integrates physical activities such as walking and biking into daily routines. Four national programs at RWJF support this strategy:
- Active Living Leadership, which helps inform government leaders in promoting or enabling active living.
- Active Living Research, which supports research to identify environmental factors and policies that influence physical activity (for more information see Grant Results).
- Active for Life®, which promotes the physical activity of adults over age 50. (For more information see Grant Results.)
- Active Living by Design, a program supporting the increase of physical activity through community design, public policies and communications strategies.
In the course of this project, staff:
- Engaged an advisory group of about 20 experts in public health and in transportation (see the Appendix for a list of members).
- Produced two reports for public release and two policy briefs for use in advocacy efforts.
- Conducted a workshop for professionals in both transportation and public health.
(See the Bibliography for further details.)
The Policy Project published and disseminated two reports.
- Mean Streets 2002 highlights the connection between pedestrian fatalities and spending on pedestrian infrastructure.
- 12 percent of all traffic deaths are pedestrians, although only 5 percent of all trips are made on foot.
- Less than 1 percent of all federal funds (0.7 percent) went to pedestrian and bicycle facilities (sidewalks and bike lanes on streets and highways), even though a combined total of 13.6 percent of all traffic fatalities were pedestrians or bicyclists.
- The top 10 most dangerous metropolitan areas were in states that averaged only 62 cents per person spending on pedestrian and bicycling facilities, well below the national average of 87 cents per person each year.
- Americans' Attitudes Toward Walking and Creating Better Walking Communities presents findings of a poll on the demand for a nonmotorized infrastructure. The project subcontracted with Belden Russonello & Stewart, a private research firm, to conduct the telephone poll of 800 adults in October 2002. Key findings include:
- 55 percent of respondents said, "If it were possible, I would like to walk more throughout the day either to get to specific places or for exercise."
- 74 percent of respondents strongly or somewhat favor creating safer routes to school, even at the expense of building new highways.
- 84 percent strongly or somewhat favor traffic-calming devices to reduce speeding "even if this means driving more slowly."
- 71 percent of adults say they walked or bicycled to school as a child; only 17 percent of respondents' children sometimes walk to school.
- Members of the Working Group on Health and Safety have made 22 visits to members of Congress in order to inform policy makers about the links between health and transportation. Project staff produced two documents intended to help educate policy makers about this subject:
- A position paper, "Policy Recommendations for Transportation and Health," describes how transportation policy affects people's health and lists 10 policy recommendations.
- A briefing book (Power Point presentation), "Driving Factors: How Transportation Policy Affects Health," details how federal transportation policy can be used to enhance the nation's health.
Project staff conducted a workshop, "Connecting Transportation Policy with Physical Activity," January 11, 2003, in Washington. Approximately 35 participants from the transportation and public health fields discussed the public health impacts of transportation decisions and how possible shifts in transportation planning and policy to mitigate negative effects and promote physical activity. The participants recommended:
- A federal transportation law requiring bicycle and pedestrian features in every transportation project.
- Suballocating federal transportation dollars to the regional and local levels. Sidewalks and bike lane creation is easier to accomplish at the local level.
In conjunction with the release of its research reports, project staff conducted press briefings and created media advisories and mailings to national, local and trade reporters. Some 275 newspaper or magazine articles cited Mean Streets as did ABC's World News Tonight (twice). The release of its poll data prompted articles in 19 newspapers, two trade publications and eight online news sites. Recommendations from the workshop were incorporated into the project's other publications concerned with the reauthorization of the federal transportation law.
There is one lesson from this project:
- Work is needed to expand transportation databases beyond their current focus on vehicles in order to capture public health impacts of transportation policies. For example, the Fatality Analysis Reporting System is the only national database tracking traffic crashes in the United States, but it only tracks injuries in accidents that also involve fatalities; there is no data on pedestrian injuries caused by traffic crashes where there are no fatalities. There may be a way to remedy this gap as transportation professionals collaborate more with the public health sector, where data quality and methodology are better. (Project Director)
AFTER THE GRANT
In collaboration with researchers at Rutgers University, staff has completed a research report, using project data, which makes a scientific case that people are healthier in more "walkable" communities. They released the findings be in the fall of 2003.
GRANT DETAILS & CONTACT INFORMATION
Integrating Public Health into Federal Transportation Policy
Surface Transportation Policy Project (Washington, DC)
Dates: May 2002 to February 2003
Surface Transportation Policy Project
Health and Safety Issue Team (previously Working Group on Health and Safety)
Margo Wootan, co-chair
Center for Science in the Public Interest
Brian Williams, co-chair
American Heart Association
John Balbus, M.D.
New York, N.Y.
American Lung Association
New York, N.Y.
Partnership for Prevention
Center for Science in the Public Interest
Erica Shane Hamilton
National Recreation and Park Association
Mary Pat Hanley
National SAFE KIDS Campaign
American Public Health Association
Smart Growth America
American Hiking Society
Silver Spring, Md.
National Association of City and County Health Organizations
National Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity
National Center for Bicycling & Walking
League of American Bicyclists
(Current as of date of this report; as provided by grantee organization; not verified by RWJF; items not available from RWJF.)
Mean Streets 2002. Washington: Surface Transportation Policy Project, 2002. Available online.
Americans' Attitudes Toward Walking and Creating Better Walking Communities. Washington: Belden Russonello & Stewart Research and Communications, 2003. Available online.
Driving Factors: How Transportation Policy Affects Health Briefing Book. Washington: Surface Transportation Policy Project, 2002.
Policy Recommendations for Transportation and Health Position Paper. Washington: Surface Transportation Policy Project, the National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity and Environmental Defense, 2002.
"Transportation and Public Health: Connecting Transportation Policy with Physical Activity," January 11, 2003, Washington. Attended by 35 leaders in transportation and public health.
Five presentations and one large-group discussion.
- Cindy Burbank, Federal Highway Administration (Washington), "Physical Activity Is a Transportation Issue."
- Reid Ewing, Voorhees Transportation Center, Rutgers University (New Brunswick, N.J.), "Transportation, Obesity and Public Health/Sprawl and Public Health."
- Daniel Swartz, Children's Environmental Health Network (Washington), "Transportation and Children's Health."
- Larry Frank, Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta), "Design Shapes Activity."
- James Corless, Surface Transportation Policy Project (Washington), "Transportation Policy Opportunities and Barriers."
- Carol Stroebel, Coalition Resources, Inc. (Arlington, Va.), group facilitator, "Setting Priorities, Next Steps, Recommendations and Actions."
World Wide Web Sites
The Surface Transportation Policy Project manages three Web sites:
- www.transact.org. The Surface Transportation Policy Project Web site contains information about the how the federal surface transportation law can be used to support local and statewide activities to expand travel options and promote physical activity.
- www.tea3.org carries updates, fact sheets and policy recommendations about the reauthorization of the federal transportation bill. The site links to www.transact.org.
Report prepared by: Kelsey Menehan
Reviewed by: James Wood
Reviewed by: Molly McKaughan
Program Officer: Katherine Kraft