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Public Roads - November/December 2016

November/December 2016
Issue No:
Vol. 80 No. 3
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

Internet Watch

Online Tool Promotes Health Through Transportation

by Carrie Boris

Everyone benefits from using roadways, streets, sidewalks, trails, and public transportation for everyday needs. These essential elements of the built environment help travelers get to and from work and school and access basic necessities like grocery stores and health services. However, transportation infrastructure also can contribute to harmful effects, including decreased air quality from vehicle emissions and a lack of safe places to walk, bicycle, and engage in physical activity without unnecessary risk.

Increasingly, State officials, metropolitan planning organizations, and other partners are including health goals and criteria in transportation planning, policies, and project selection. The public health community has begun to partner with transportation planning agencies to integrate health considerations in transportation work.

But effective planning and decisionmaking require the right data. That’s where the Transportation and Health Tool can help. Launched in 2015 by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in partnership with the American Public Health Association, the simple-to-use tool highlights the connection between transportation and public health and can help improve transportation decisionmaking.

Indicating Healthy Improvements

The Transportation and Health Tool provides data on a set of 14 transportation and public health indicators for each State and metropolitan area. These indicators describe how the transportation environment affects safety, active transportation, air quality, and connectivity to destinations. The indicators help communities see how they perform in comparison to other States or communities on a variety of transportation measures. For example, walking, bicycling, and transit tend to support healthy physical activity, so indicators in the tool provide measures of how many people are using these methods to get around.

Transportation decisions also affect surrounding communities. For example, transportation has a major impact on air quality, so the tool includes indicators that relate to how much people drive and how close people live to roads with heavy traffic.

Many other indicators in the tool give policymakers an immediate understanding of the critical relationships between transportation investments and health, including the affordability of an area’s housing and transportation. Indicators also measure an area’s safety performance through traffic fatalities and seat belt use.

After looking up State or local results on the interactive Indicator Data page, users are directed to 25 strategies that transportation practitioners can use to improve health outcomes, including such methods as expanding infrastructure for walking, bicycling, and transit; promoting connectivity; and improving roadway safety.


The strategies section of the site identifies and describes evidence-based policies, strategies, and interventions. Each detailed strategy page includes an overview, the related indicators, positive health outcomes, supporting evidence and practical examples, and resources for more information.

The site also includes a literature and resources section that identifies five primary pathways through which transportation influences public health--active transportation, safety, cleaner air, connectivity, and equality--and explains the indicators related to each. In addition, the site provides indicator profiles and an explanation of the scoring methodology to help users understand the data used in the 14 indicators and analysis used to arrive at the percentile-based scores.

A Collaborative Effort

USDOT, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Public Health Association worked together, with input from a panel of experts, to select transportation and health indicators for the tool. The panel chose the 14 indicators from an initial list of 190 through an intensive process over several months, culminating in a 2-day workshop in 2013.

“We designed the tool to be a useful resource for transportation decisionmakers around the country,” says Barbara McCann, director of USDOT’s Office of Policy Development, Strategic Planning, and Performance. “It provides transportation and public health officials with a starting point for discussion on how transportation investments can help protect human health.”

The online tool is a one-stop source for data for State and local transportation decisionmakers and health officials to understand how their transportation systems might affect health. “For the first time,” McCann says, “this site compiles data on how all States and communities are performing on a range of health-related transportation indicators.”

For more information, visit

Carrie Boris is a contributing editor for Public Roads.