New Study: “The Hidden Health Costs of Transportation”

A picture from our most recent brown-bag event in Allentown. The topic was "Bicycling in the Lehigh Valley."

I recently finished a class at Lehigh taught by State Representative Bob Freeman. The class, called Land Use Management and the Politics of Sprawl, really started me thinking about the interconnectedness of our transportation planning, the health of the public, and our land use patterns. One thing that is very clear to me after taking the class is our incredible dependence on cars. As someone who loves to drive and has always had a car, I found this realization rather humbling. The fact is, we have created a world in which we live on one island, work on a different island, and ‘play’ on various other islands. Meanwhile, the car–our boat– is the only way to get from one island to the next.

To travel to a store within one mile often requires a car trip. Of course we could hastily blame this on laziness, but it is more and more common for roads to be built without any consideration to pedestrian traffic. In class we discussed the effects of these trends and our discussions often brought us to issues of public health, wasted land, and economic distress. A recent study conducted by the American Public Health Association provides evidence of these effects and proposes that we look at transportation funding and planning through a very different lens.

The study, “The Hidden Health Costs of Transportation,” highlights the lack of consideration that is given to health costs in transportation planning. In other words, when decision-makers decide which transportation projects are priorities, they rarely take into account the health costs associated with the various options. As a result, we miss out on opportunities to fund transportation projects that are actually most efficient.

The current process by which transportation funding decisions are made generally does little to consider the long-term costs and benefits to health, safety and equity.Our systemof transportation investment has resulted in many benefits for the U.S. and its residents, but today’s growing, aging and urbanizing population has different needs and expectations for a transportation system.

The study outlines some of the health costs associated with transportation. They estimate the health costs of traffic crashes at $180 billion/year, the health costs of traffic pollution at $50-80 billion/year, and the health costs of obesity/overweight at $142 billion/year. Included in these estimates are various factors including direct health care costs, lost wages due to illness, injury, and disability, legal/administrative costs, quality of life, and premature death.

The study also includes three case studies: Traffic Safety Case Study, Air Pollution Case Study, and Physical Activity Case Study.

This study helps to frame the issue of transportation in the larger context of economic and environmental sustainability as the effects on public health. After Ray LaHood announced a change in transportation funding strategy this past January, this study should come as another nudge in the right direction.

What do you think of the study? Is there anything in particular that interests you? Any thoughts on how this type of information may help to reshape the debates around local transportation issues?

Posted on May 28, 2010, in Health, Public Infrastructure, Transportation, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. You should consider being appointed to the LVPC. No one there is thinking this way and they should be.

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