Planning experts are saying the transportation industry, along with all public agencies, needs to begin implementing more health considerations into any policy changes or decisions.
A new “Health in All Policies” framework is currently recommended by Conduent Transportation’s strategy and innovation leader, Renee Autumn Ray, to be adopted into public agencies at each level of government.
“This really makes sense to a lot of agencies because, pretty much every public agency has a foundational principle to administer for the health, safety, and welfare of all of the people in their jurisdictions,” said Ray. “Health is kind of embedded, at least at some level, in a lot of the work of transportation and other public agencies.”
Ray recently published a paper called, “Increasing Access to Essential Health Functions: The Role of Transportation in Improving America’s Health,” in which she discusses how obstacles to transportation access have a negative effect on health care access. The paper also explains how those without a personal vehicle typically have to rely on less efficient or less convenient methods of transit.
Additionally, Ray explained that integrating a health-in-all-policies method could decrease the difficulties that come with social and systemic factors that affect both personal economic growth and care. These factors also include education, job access, and socioeconomic status; all of these conditions can cause differences in quality of life and overall health.
“Transportation access is one of the fundamental objectives of the public sector,” said Eno Center vice president of policy and finance, Paul Lewis. “It’s also one of the most important ways the government can enable residents to live healthy and productive lives.”
Ray also said that impoverished people tend to move far outside the city and into its outskirts where lower costs of living and fewer options for public transportation are available. The distance from city centers, she said, also has a large impact on a person’s ability to work just one job and the amount of time they have for leisure.
Longer life expectancy can also cause transportation difficulties, said Ray in her paper. On average, she noted, people outlive their driving ability by up to a decade.
“When we think about where older adults are living, most of them are living in suburbs that it’s going to be very difficult to run transit through,” Ray said.
Ray believes the most effective way to make any positive changes is to communicate thoroughly with members of the community–the ones who are directly affected by these issues.
“The best way to understand how to do planning is by having local relationships,” she said. “You need to go into different communities that you’re planning for and talk to those people, and then do the things that they tell you. Doing a better job listening to folks in the community is important.”
She is glad, though, that more and more people have been dedicating themselves to the studies of planning and public health, and says that the upward trend of those entering multiple sectors can only be a good thing.
Ray also pointed out that although the majority of public transportation experts and public health workers typically want the same kinds of improvements for their communities, their verbiage may differ, and it’s important for the public to understand that.
“I think one thing that’s important to note is that we use different jargon, but we’re frequently trying to do the same thing,” she explained. “Getting a framework for some of that jargon, to me, is helpful to understand that there are some foundational principles that lie across all of the work we’re doing in our various public agencies.”
Whatever words are used to describe issues and solutions, Ray insists that creative problem-solving through a collaborative effort is key. For example, throughout the pandemic, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has worked on a program allowing curbside pickup and grocery delivery services to be used for specific subsidized food benefits.
Ray says actions like these during COVID-19, and other efforts to improve overall community health, give her hope that public sector officials will help the nation come out better than it was before the pandemic.
“[Positive change] is hugely important now, with COVID,” said Lewis. “But this has always been an issue.”