Today more than ever before, the transportation sector is grappling with several grand challenges. From a planetary perspective, transportation must become more sustainable and resilient if it is to support us through increased pressures like extreme weather events or pandemic-caused supply chain disruptions. But the health of the planet and the infrastructure itself are not the only health concerns to consider. On a human scale, health and health equity have emerged as equally important aspects that the transportation sector must address. What we are learning is that, in many instances where we have healthy options, we may need to make changes to the way we provide transportation.
At the same time, transportation infrastructure as we know it is also changing. Trends such as electrification, connectivity, automation, and an increasingly digital world are transforming infrastructure design, construction and maintenance. In some cases, these transformations require more integration with other systems or entities, and most will allow for more multifunctionality to better serve the future. Opportunities for making these changes arise during the entire life cycle of transportation infrastructure, from planning, through implementation, through end-of-life disposal.
At CARTEEH, we have embarked on the Healthy People Through SMART Infrastructure initiative to identify these change opportunities and leverage the considerable strengths and talents of our consortium members to build on our previous research efforts – all in the service of enhancing health. Healthy People Through SMART Infrastructure takes a holistic approach to examine the complex relationship between transportation infrastructure and public health. As part of this initiative, we developed the Health Equity Framework to help navigate these challenging issues in a consistent and comprehensive manner. This framework was developed to guide practitioners and policy makers through the intersections between transportation and health to make the most healthful decisions for people and for the planet.
SMART Principles for Transportation Infrastructure Development
As part of the Healthy People Through SMART Infrastructure initiative, we devised a set of principles to drive infrastructure development decisions. These principles characterize tomorrow’s transportation systems, describing the challenges, opportunities and functions of the fast-approaching future and should be considered our core mission’s new goals in developing, delivering, and maintaining transportation infrastructure.
- Sustainable –environmental, economic, and social triple bottom line, with an emphasis on low-carbon, environmentally sound, equitable and socially inclusive strategies.
- Multimodal – diversity of choice and equitable service among transportation modes, for both urban and rural areas. It also includes enhanced public transportation options, last mile deliveries, and integration of active transportation
- Accessible – ease of reaching destinations, activities, and people, that is affordable options and includes disadvantaged population groups
- Resilient – ability to quickly recover from a stressed situation, including rapidly absorb, adapt and recover from a disruptive event in a manner that is equitable
- Technological – emerging and proven tools, methods, and machines solve transportation problems, and embrace the benefits of disruptive technologies, predict and mitigate unintended negative consequences
The goals and outcomes of each SMART principle focus on the planning phase of infrastructure development and are aimed at helping decision makers make more informed decisions about infrastructure choices.
Link to: SMART Infrastructure Goals
Objectives for Health and Transportation Infrastructure
The Health Equity Framework was developed based on the need to enumerate issues more explicitly at the intersection of health and transportation. A set of 8 objectives—derived from TTI’s 14 Pathways Between Health and Transportation—act as a “lens” or a “filter” to the SMART principles, ensuring that decisions made in the different functional areas also advance health and health equity. These objectives (listed below) help transportation practitioners to better understand the distribution of benefits and impacts of various transportation decisions.
- Reduce vehicle emissions
- Increase connectivity and social inclusion
- Increase access to healthy destinations
- Increase active transportation options
- Promote green space and reduce heat
- Reduce run-off and contamination from transportation
- Improve safety for all users
- Minimize traffic noise
Transportation decisions informed by these 8 considerations can result in improved physical and mental health for humans and healing for the planet.
Application to Infrastructure Decisions
This part of the Health Equity Framework discusses how the SMART principles for infrastructure development and the 8 objectives can be applied across the transportation infrastructure life cycle. For this, we defined the following 7 “functional areas”:
- Policy and planning
- Project development
- Material selection
In addition to the establishment of the framework itself, a web-based toolkit for policy makers and practitioners was developed to assist in achieving and measuring the framework’s 8 objectives. The toolkit serves as a deployable collection of various strategies, key performance indicators, and other tools to measure the progression towards health equity and help guide transportation infrastructure decisions.
Our goal for this Health Equity Framework and Toolkit is that it supports practitioners and policymakers to:
- Articulate the issues at hand,
- Document the current state of practice,
- Inform practitioners and stakeholders, and
- Steer a future research agenda at the intersection of transportation infrastructure and health.