405 Freeway, Los Angeles, CA.
Photo Credit: Used by permission of photographer: Tatiane Santos (website:

So much of modern life is shaped by how we move around from home to work, to school, and to places to shop and eat and play, and by the movement of goods that support us from food, to electronics, to building materials.  Playing such a large role in our lives, it is not surprising that transportation of people and goods has profound and varied affects on the public’s health. 

The placement and design of transportation projects affect the physical environment with impacts on air and water quality, noise levels, and displacement of other land-uses from greenspace to housing.  Transportation projects and their use also affect health through impacts on the social environment—highways may split communities, reliance on automobile travel may decrease opportunities for social interaction and lead to increases in stress and anxiety, neighborhoods and city centers that emphasize walkability over vehicle traffic flow can increase safety and social capital.  And, our use of one mode of transportation or another will affect physical activity levels, mental health and even nutrition.

Complicating decisions about transportation policy is the fact that transportation are often closely intertwined with other issues including land-use, energy policy and commerce.  Decisions about mass transit are likely to be constrained by land-use decisions made fifty or more years previously.  A school may want to promote walking to school but heavy truck and rail traffic in a transportation corridor adjacent to the school may make it unsafe to do so.  After making a city center more walkable people may still prefer to drive because the easiest way to get to the city center is by car.

Spurred by a growing number of advocacy groups, transportation agencies are recognizing the role that transportation systems play in people’s health and well-being.  While the auto-centric culture continues to predominate, transportation policy is evolving to focus more on moving people not just vehicles. 

Policy Actions

  • funding for mass transit operations and infrastructure
  • highway construction and design
  • “complete streets” requirements for roadway projects (i.e. pedestrian and bicycle amenities)
  • mileage tax to replace fuel taxes
  • employer and employee incentives for transit use
  • safe routes to school, walk/bike to school promotion
  • incentives for alternative fuel vehicles

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