Pittsburg Railroad Ave. Specific Plan Health Impact Assessment

Authors: Human Impact Partners

Location: San Francisco, California, United States

An HIA that addressed the health implications of the Pittsburg Railroad Avenue Specific Plan, which included a new commuter rail (BART) station located in the middle of State Highway 4 in Pittsburg, California.

Completion Date: June 2008

HIA Report: Pittsburg Railroad Avenue Specific Plan Health Impact Assessment

Summary of the HIA

Proposed Policy or Project

The Pittsburg Railroad Ave. Specific Plan includes a new BART (main subway in the San Francisco Bay Area) station, extending from the current end of one of the lines. The new BART station would be located in the middle of State Highway 4, and would be surrounded by transit-oriented development: almost 1,600 units of multi-unit housing, 450,000 sq. ft of retail and commercial space, and pedestrian and bike improvements. All new construction would be within 1/2 mile of the proposed BART station.

Background and Policy Context

Pittsburg is a small suburb of the San Francisco Bay Area with a population of 57,000 in 2000. Due to high housing costs in the Bay Area, the more affordable Pittsburg has experienced a surge in population and the need to plan for a higher growth rate than the surrounding community. The City supports BART's plan to begin a 4-stop extension, including a station at Railroad Ave., with TOD surrounding each station. Pittsburg has a large Latino population with incomes slightly lower than surrounding suburbs. The Great Communities Collaborative (GCC), whose members advocate for TOD projects across the Bay Area, chose Pittsburg as one of their priority projects and one that a health lens could help in terms of improving the project's goals and mitigating any negative health outcomes.

Scope and Methods

The scope was decided in collaboration with the steering committee which included TransForm, a transportation and land use advocacy group; CCISCO (Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Communities Organizing); and Human Impact Partners, with input from community meetings. Scoped priority areas for research included housing, livelihood, transportation, retail and services, air quality, and noise. Methods included air quality modeling, noise modeling, transportation predictive tools for vehicle trips and BART ridership, retail GIS mapping with a predictive tool for where a grocery store should ideally go, Pedestrian Environmental Quality Index maps and data analysis, and literature review.

Summary of Findings

Housing: not enough affordable housing to accommodate demand; recommended increasing the amount. Transportation: increase in BART ridership from the current 8.4% to 16% in the project area; an increase in risk of pedestrian injury in the BART station area; an increase in vehicle trips due to increased population but much less in comparison to a non-TOD project for a similar amount of people. Air Quality: an improvement in regional air quality but negative health effects for those living in the station area if no high quality HVAC system mitigations were included. Findings include a quantitative estimate of percentage increase in hospitalizations and illness. Noise: annoyance and sleep disturbance due to freeway and BART noise would affect residents of new housing if no mitigations were included in the design. Retail: community has high priority for a grocery store and a site equidistant for station area residents was mapped; neighborhood completeness was quantified. Jobs in the project area from the construction of this 15-year project would improve the health of local residents, particularly if provided for the large proportion of day laborers.

Decisions/Actions following the release of the HIA

There were many positive outcomes. The Specific Plan incorporated HIA recommendations for high-quality HVAC systems and noise mitigations. The City also increased the amount of affordable housing included in the project. Later, there were some Pittsburg residents who did not want affordable housing to be built, and used the argument that the air quality would cause poor health for low-income residents, but the city was able to keep the amount in by showing they had followed the HIA's recommendations for air quality mitigations. Even later, one City Councilor proposed to delete one of the affordable housing sites and add a park instead. Residents, organized through a local health clinic, testifies that affordable housing would be better for their health and that, as seniors, they would rather be close to public transportation that didn't force them to drive. The affordable housing site was saved.

Project Inputs

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Project partner's vehicle demand modeling

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Background Reports


Kim Gilhuly

Project Director

304 12th Street, Suite 3B

(510) 452-9442