Reliable transportation is a vital community condition for health and well-being. People need safe, accessible, and affordable transportation to go about their daily lives. Transportation shapes our health in other ways as well. Decisions about transportation policy and investments can prioritize health and well-being by:
Prioritizing safety to reduce transportation-related injuries and deaths
Seeking strategies that reduce climate change emissions including public transportation investments
Expanding multi-modal transportation and “active transportation and recreation” facilities
Centering people who are low-income and transit-dependent (e.g., disabled, with health conditions, involved with the justice system)
Promoting transportation options that encourage physical activity, such as walking, cycling, and public transit use, can help individuals meet their daily physical activity needs, which is important for preventing chronic diseases
Providing accessible and affordable transportation options to help mitigate social isolation and its effects to improve social connectedness and mental health
The transportation sector has significant implications for public health, affecting physical activity levels, air quality, access to healthcare, road safety, and social isolation. Physical inactivity, influenced by transportation systems, is a leading risk factor for global mortality, while air pollution from transportation contributes to millions of premature deaths annually. People who live in areas with limited public transit options or who are reliant on cars for transportation may have less access to healthy food options and be at increased risk for chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Additionally, road traffic injuries are a leading cause of death worldwide, resulting in over 1.3 million fatalities in 2016 alone.
Car-centric transportation policies, along with racial and socioeconomic segregation in planning and development, have significantly shaped our current transportation landscape, leading to certain challenges. However, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has played a crucial role in enhancing transportation accessibility for individuals with disabilities. By mandating accessible options in public transit systems, such as wheelchair ramps, lifts, accessible stations, and support in taxis and ride-sharing services, the ADA has made transportation more inclusive and accommodating for people with disabilities.
Low-income and minority communities, including communities of color, older adults, and individuals with disabilities, face disproportionate challenges due to their proximity to highways and high-traffic areas. These marginalized groups are often more reliant on public transit and require affordable and accessible transportation options that cater to their specific needs.
Today, there is increasing recognition of the need for equitable, sustainable transportation systems.
There are several factors that influence transportation issues, including:
Transportation policies and infrastructure: Many cities and communities still prioritize car-centric transportation policies and infrastructure, which can contribute to increased rates of air pollution, traffic injuries and fatalities, and sedentary lifestyles.
Climate change: The transportation sector is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to climate change and can have negative impacts on public health.
Equity and accessibility: Many communities, particularly those that are low-income, communities of color, and rural, still lack access to safe and affordable transportation options, which can contribute to health disparities and limit access to healthcare services, healthy food options, and other important resources.
Promoting equity in transportation and public health requires a comprehensive approach that addresses the social determinants of health and ensures that all community members have access to safe, affordable, and sustainable transportation options. The transportation system has significant impacts on economic, environmental, social, and equity outcomes. It affects economic development, environmental sustainability, social mobility, and access to essential services. Lack of access to safe and affordable transportation options can result in social isolation and limited opportunities. At the local level, transportation systems and policies can have significant impacts on—access to safe, affordable, and efficient transportation can reduce health disparities, and promote social inclusion.
Changemakers and stewards can influence transportation and public health at scale by collaborating with stakeholders, listening to people with lived experience in a given community to learn about transportation challenges, advocating for policy change, educating communities, and investing in transportation infrastructure and public health initiatives. Individuals can make a difference in promoting transportation-related public health initiatives by choosing active transportation, advocating for infrastructure improvements, encouraging community involvement in transportation planning, and supporting local transportation initiatives and projects that advance health and minimize disparities.