Some key urban transport policy measures can lead to numerous positive health impacts for citizens, while others have few or none. That’s one of the conclusions of a study led by researchers from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) —a centre supported by the ”la Caixa” Foundation—and the Institute for Transport Studies at Leeds, who assessed the potential benefits for human health of 64 policy measures that cities usually consider in their transport planning.
The results of this study, published in the Journal of Transport and Health, indicate that measures like good land use planning avoiding urban sprawl, pricing of car use and better provision for active and public transport are among the most beneficial for health. Such measures produce multiple health outcomes by reducing air pollution, noise, heat islands, greenhouse gases, traffic and motor vehicle crashes, social exclusion and community severance, and by increasing active travel such as walking and cycling and the availability of green spaces.
A second group of measures including low emission zones and the promotion of low carbon vehicles are not associated with so many positive impacts, but contribute to health by reducing air pollution. Policy measures in the categories of awareness and information were more difficult to judge and are crucially dependent on their design. Some infrastructure measures such as provision of new roads can have negative effects on health by increasing motor vehicle crashes, air pollution, noise, greenhouse gases, physical inactivity and community severance.
The study combined a literature review of the health impacts of transport with the knowledge and opinions of three independent experts coming from different backgrounds: transport planning and policy, environmental and public health and transport and health. The researchers used a well-established and freely accessible online tool: Knowledgebase on Sustainable Urban Land use and Transport (KonSULT) , where the 64 assessed measures are indexed and described. As a next step, the authors intend to add public health as a formal objective in KonSULT, enabling policy makers and the public to generate a set of policy measures which best contributes to enhanced public health in their city.
It is estimated that by 2050, nearly 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas, representing the largest urban growth in human history. Cities have long been known to be society’s predominant engine of innovation and wealth creation, yet they are also the main source of pollution and diseases. A recent study in Barcelona found that 20% of premature mortality is due to poor urban and transport planning.
“Although the linkages between transport and health have been gaining recent research attention, there remains a lack of consideration of health impacts in transport policy and practice”, states ISGlobal researcher Haneen Khreis, main author of the study. This paper gives practitioners and the public an idea of how health is or will be impacted because of transport planning practices in their cities through 9 key pathways: motor vehicle crashes, air pollution, physical inactivity, noise, heat islands, greenhouse gases, social exclusion, community severance and exposures to green spaces. “We want the research knowledge accumulated in academic circles so far to cross to the practice and public realm and make a positive impact”, she adds.
“Urban and transport planning has a large impact on public health, and the current car domination in cities leads to a considerable burden of disease that is preventable with the adaptation of health-conducive policy measures”, says Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, director of ISGlobal’s Initiative of Urban Planning, Environment and Health .
Khreis, H., May, A. D., Nieuwenhuijsen, M. Health Impacts of Urban Transport Policy Measures: A Guidance Note for Practice. Journal of Transport and Health https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jth.2017.06.003