Grandparents With Grandchildren Walking Through CountrysideActive transportation has proven health benefits, can reduce vehicle miles traveled, improve the environment and provide a substantial economic boost to communities. Luckily, public health professionals and the planning community are working together to make those benefits a reality.

At today’s Annual Meeting session on “Integrating Public Health in Metro Area Planning Agencies,” presenters highlighted the potential of public health-planning partnerships in building healthier, more active cities. One of those key partners is known as the Metropolitan Planning Organization, or MPO, which decides which transportation projects to fund with federal dollars in a given region.

With the right public health focus, MPOs can allocate funding to bicycle, pedestrian and transit infrastructure. And in fact, the session marked the soft launch of a new guide, created by Transportation for America, with support from APHA, to facilitate just that.

Transportation for America’s Rochelle Carpenter opened the session with an introduction to the guide, “Building Healthy and Prosperous Communities: How Metro Areas are Implementing More and Better Bicycling and Walking Projects.” Scheduled to appear on the organization’s website next month, the guide highlights initiatives, spearheaded by MPOs, that illustrate distinct ideas, strategies and tactics to help MPOs expand and improve options for safe walking and bicycling.

“Public health professionals can’t achieve health equity alone; practitioners must work across sectors to address the various factors that lead to health inequities,” Carpenter said.

The guide offers examples of MPOs that have adopted or implemented transportation policies, programs, plans, project designs, performance measures and data collection procedures to incorporate public health considerations into MPO activities. MPO representatives from case studies published in the guide presented at the session as well.

Carpenter, also with the Nashville Area MPO, told attendees: “Transportation planning affects more than just transportation. It also impacts our air quality, traffic injuries and fatalities, land use and access to jobs and medical care. We look at the anticipated public health and social equity impacts of each transportation planning project that applies for federal dollars through us.”

Amelia Costanzo with the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission in Columbus, Ohio, spoke about her MPO’s decade-long partnership with regional public health departments.

“Thanks to our work with public health professionals, we hold all of our county or municipality project applicants to a high standard of liveability for people at all levels of need,” she said.

Peter Gies of the Broward County MPO in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, spoke about his region’s planned 100 miles of bike lanes and 40 miles of pedestrian footpaths.

“We’ve invested over $100,000 in pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure over the next five years,” he told session attendees. “Public health has been invaluable in our area for providing community outreach. The transportation sector just can’t get the kind of buy in to active transportation the way public health can with the way they frame issues.”

Byron Rushing and Amy Goodwin of the Atlanta Regional Commission presented on the MPO’s plan to reduce congestion in the region. Theirs was the first MPO in the country to write a comprehensive regional bicycle plan, and it’s currently building 33 miles of multi-use trails around Atlanta.

“Access to jobs, quality of life, equity…transportation decisions, plans, programs and policies greatly impact the health of our communities,” he said.