PedNet: Highlighting the Link Between Transportation and Health

Apr 2, 2012, 7:44 PM, Posted by

overview-publictransit Public transportation in Columbia, Missouri. Photo courtesy of PedNet Coalition.

The County Health Roadmaps project, a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Public Health Institute, includes efforts to build connections within and between local communities and national partners, including grants to coalitions across the U.S. The grantees will build on the County Health Rankings model, which highlights the critical role that education, jobs, income, and other aspects of the community in influencing health.

Roadmaps to Health grantees are working to create healthier places to live, learn, work and play. One such grant was recently awarded to the PedNet Coalition in Columbia, Mo., and NewPublicHealth spoke with several health leaders who will be implementing the grant—Stephanie Browning, health director of the Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services, Stacia Reilly, a health educator for the health department, and Michelle Windmoeller, assistant director of PedNet.

NewPublicHealth: Tell us about the PedNet Coalition and its mission.

Michelle Windmoeller: The PedNet Coalition was formed in April of 2000 with the mission of establishing an interconnected set of trails and walkways and basic infrastructure to encourage people to bike, walk, even use a wheelchair for their transportation needs. Since then, PedNet has evolved to be engaged in a lot of different health aspects. We have some grants that deal with healthy food and food production in the community. We have grants that deal with public transportation and we still have our basic programs that encourage biking and walking like our walking school bus and our bicycle education classes.

NPH: And can you tell us about the scope of the Roadmaps to Health Community Grant you received?

Michelle Windmoeller: It actually is a two-year, two-fold project. One part deals with public transportation as a factor of health and the other is a health impact assessment. We’re trying to show the health benefits of increasing the use of public transportation in Columbia. If people are using the bus system, they’re saving money on their transportation costs, and it also gives them access to health facilities, to jobs, to community activities, to getting involved in their community, to friends and neighbors for good social networks. The goal is to boost the usage of public transportation through awareness campaigns, through social marketing, and through having community conversations about transit and then working to help influence policy change.

NPH: What else will you are doing with the Roadmaps to Health grant?

Michelle Windmoeller: One thing is social marketing. We have a certain amount of funding to try to get people to ride the bus more. We have a goal of reaching 3,000 individual people and 300 businesses to sign on to the vision. One of our other deliverables is basically increasing bus service, and by that we mean increasing routes and service times by 20 percent. The last part is a health impact assessment, which the health department is taking the lead on.

Stacia Reilly: The health impact assessment (HIA) portion of the Roadmaps grant is run by the Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services, and we are using some of this funding to start piloting HIAs within our community. This is something that the health department has been interested in, and this particular funding source was an opportunity for us to start doing that work. Using the Roadmaps grant, we plan to pilot probably two to three different HIAs, with the first HIA on the proposed expansion of the transit system.

We will also do a community-wide HIA workshop specifically targeting stakeholders that we feel would be important to furthering the work of HIAs within our community. We’ll be inviting people such as city council members, county commissioners, various department heads, probably folks from our smart growth coalition—individuals who are related to those different groups who could see the benefit of making health impact assessments a permanent part of the work that we do here at the health department. And another deliverable related to that is social marketing around HIAs to those various stakeholders as well.

NPH: How are you envisioning social marketing around the HIAs?

Stacia Reilly: I think that we will be kind of breaking some ground here. Right now, what we’re doing is developing a list of stakeholders and we’re going to start just getting some information out to them. Our initial step will be through a postcard, which will have some general information on HIAs and what we’re doing with this grant.

NPH: And what’s the idea behind that? To better acquaint all stakeholders with HIAs?

Stacia Reilly: Absolutely. HIAs are so new within the public health arena as well as here in Columbia. These will be the first health impact assessments that are done in our community. So, there’s a lot of awareness building and education that needs to happen with these stakeholders. We’ll do that through print materials, through discussions, through email—a wide variety of ways.

NPH: Stephanie Browning, director of the Columbia/Boone County Department of Health and Human Services, I have a question for you. How will the grant help your county raise some of the Rankings you view as needing a bump up?

Stephanie Browning: For us, the health impact assessment piece and actually developing that capacity here I think is going to be critical for the health and wellbeing of our community and improving our ranking itself. If you look at how we stack up against the rest of Missouri, we look like we’re relatively healthy comparatively. But we know that there are certainly lots of challenges, disparities, things that we have to address, and in that environment, sometimes it’s hard to get policymakers to really understand the implications of various policies on certain sections of our community.

So, we adopted the “health in all policies” approach, and at every turn we’re trying to point out in city and county government when policy can have an impact. This is going to give us a better tool, a more systematic and structured way to begin to approach that and share that.

NPH: How do you stack up in the Rankings?

Stephanie Browning: Well, when you look at access to care, for example, we have a really excellent health care system here. Our ratio of providers to citizens is good. We have a highly educated population because of the colleges in the area. We have a strong school system. So, in a lot of those areas, we come out much better than other counties. But we certainly have lots of other challenges. For example, being a college town, alcohol use is a perpetual challenge, and a health impact assessment on that issue is very important.

It’s hard to get people to realize that there are people in this community that are not enjoying the good health that others are. There is a disparity and a gap between them. For example, with transit, if we can’t continue to serve the people who rely on it to get to work, that has a definite health impact. They can’t get to the grocery store. They can’t get to a farmer’s market. Public health has long been behind the scenes, and it’s time that we step out there.


This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.