East Bay Greenway Health Impact Assessment

Authors: Human Impact Partners

Location: Alameda County, California, United States

The Greenway is an excellent way to create more efficient mobility and manage the transportation demands of future population growth. The Greenway will make getting to places easier for pedestrians, bicyclists, and mass-transit users, while providing a safe transportation alternative to cars.

Completion Date: September 2007

HIA Report: The East Bay Greenway Health Impact Assessment

Summary of the HIA

Proposed Policy or Project

HIA was applied to the East Bay Greenway Project (“the Greenway”) proposed by Urban Ecology. Urban Ecology is proposing to build roughly twelve miles of pedestrian and biking trail, potentially with other amenities, under the elevated Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) tracks from East Oakland, through San Leandro, through the unincorporated areas of Ashland and Cherryland, to Hayward.

Background and Policy Context

This East Bay Greenway corridor has been neglected and is currently both dangerous and uninviting, containing no open space or landscaping. It is hoped that the Greenway could become a route used by residents to get to jobs, schools and homes, and a destination for recreational opportunities. The route passes through diverse communities; several are poor communities of color that lack access to good recreational facilities and have disproportionately high rates of diseases like diabetes, obesity and asthma. In this HIA, we analyzed the potential health impacts of the proposed Greenway in the areas of physical activity, social cohesion, greening the landscape, and reducing motor vehicle use and we investigated the main potential barrier to use – safety concerns.

Scope and Methods

The scoping phase of the HIA was carried out by 1) generating diagrams of the causal pathways that would connect new trails to health outcomes based on relationships known from the literature; and 2) meeting with 12 community residents to understand whether the pathways were complete and accurate as wells as which of the pathways were most important. From these meetings, a decision was made to focus the assessment on the four potentially positive impacts - increased physical activity, greening of the landscape, reduced motor vehicle use, and increased social cohesion. Attention was also given to the main barrier to use - safety. The proposed Greenway plan was then evaluated as to how it might interact with those pathways. GIS mapping, for example of pedestrian injuries and violent crimes, was used to report existing conditions. Impact predictions were qualitative. Finally, recommendations for design and for mitigations were developed based on this evaluation. A draft report was then sent to public health officials and other decision-makers and stakeholders such as city planners and elected officials for review and comment. The final HIA report reflected feedback from reviewers.

Summary of Findings

The Greenway project presents an opportunity in land use that could be very beneficial to the health of residents who live near the route. The potential to increase physical activity, build social cohesion, encourage people to drive less, and create a landscaped, natural space all could lead to improved health outcomes. These positive health impacts include but are not limited to:

  • reducing overweight, obesity, and diabetes;
  • improving mental health;
  • reducing cardiovascular disease;
  • reducing pedestrian and bicycle related injuries;
  • reducing osteoporosis;
  • lengthening lifespan.

As detailed in the report, there are many ways in which the likelihood of these positive health outcomes can be increased through optimal design and programming. The main obstacle to achieving these positive health outcomes center on safety - both safety from accidents with motor vehicles and safety from crime. Safety issues would deter use and be an impediment to achieving the positive health outcomes described. However, with proper attention to safety issues in the design and programming of the Greenway, these potential obstacles can be avoided.

Decisions/Actions following the release of the HIA

The HIA was included in the East Bay Greenway HIA Concept Plan and planners designing the Greenway used many of the recommendations from the HIA in developing the final Concept Plan. The Plan won an award from the American Planning Association. An EIR for the Plan is being conducted and the HIA was useful in obtaining funding for conducting the EIR.

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Jonathan Heller

Executive Director

304 12th Street, Suite 3B

(510) 452-9442