New Report on Transportation and Health Equity

Smart Growth America conducted a field scan that identified six areas representing the most pressing systemic challenges to health equity facing our transportation system in the United States.

Transportation can impact health in major ways, both positively and negatively. The 2019 Smart Growth America field scan report deep dives into each of the six biggest challenges to health equity facing transportation, the tools to address these problems, and the necessity of all stakeholders working together to solve health inequity issues across the nation.

From the Smart Growth America Report:

To increase health equity, Smart Growth America recommends an approach to transportation decisionmaking and investments that puts people—especially the most disenfranchised—first. This means considering all users when planning, designing, constructing, operating, and maintaining transportation networks to ensure that regardless of who you are or how you need or want to travel, you can get where you need to go in a safe, reliable, affordable, convenient, and comfortable way.

The Report lists the following as the six biggest challenges:

1. Reframe the transportation conversation. The current messaging, narratives, and language around creating an equitable transportation system are not working. Those who care about health equity are failing to motivate our policy makers or help them understand the implications of their actions. Advocates and professionals need to reframe transportation and transportation solutions around values that people care about, such as having the freedom to choose how to travel.

2. Allocate funding and resources equitably. At all levels of government, transportation funding and resources support projects that prioritize high-speed car travel over getting people where they need to go in a safe, convenient, accessible, and affordable way. Improvements must be made at the federal, state, and local levels to ensure that funding and resources advance a multimodal system that puts people first.

3. Improve the quality and diversity of transportation leadership. Poor decision-making and weak leadership at all levels of government have created a built environment that is not easy or affordable to fix. Our decision-makers need to better represent our communities, especially the most disenfranchised populations and must commit to advancing a people-centered transportation vision.

4. Prioritize historically underrepresented communities in transportation decision-making. Disenfranchised communities have held very little power in influencing the transportation decision-making process. Authentic, meaningful community engagement should be a collaborative, not extractive, process. It requires an intentional allocation of both time and resources and should focus on listening to the voices that have been excluded or isolated.

5. Work in unison to provide people-focused infrastructure. Historically, our government departments and agencies have operated in silos. At every level of government, transportation, health, housing, and planning agencies have occupied their own spheres of influence, with equity treated as an afterthought, if at all. Government agencies and departments must work in unison to provide people-centered infrastructure.

6. Invest in communities without displacement. The U.S. has a long history of displacing people of color in the name of “prosperity.” The displacement happening today is no different. While transportation investments can improve health outcomes in communities, we need to ensure that those who live there (and suffer the most) can benefit from the improvements and aren’t just displaced to another area with bad outcomes.

Smart Growth America’s research-based field scan included a literature review of current practices, planning efforts, and studies in the transportation field; qualitative data collection; ground-truthing of qualitative findings through an in-person convening; and narrative development and message-testing with policy makers and voters.