The intersection of health and transportation

Transportation is a wide-ranging term that can mean many things to many people, but it’s something that can have a profound impact on a person’s overall health. Earlier this month, The Center for Community Solutions examined the role of transportation as a social determinant of health in the context of Medicaid. In this blog post, we will touch on alternative transportation methods to driving, including public transit and walking, as a means of improving one’s health through increased activity and improved access.

Physical activity and public transportation

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states the impact of inadequate physical activity has been shown to statistically increase mortality rates in middle-age and older adults.[1] According to a study published for the American Public Transportation Authority, the CDC recommends that adults average at least 22 daily minutes of moderate physical activity, such as brisk walking, to stay fit and healthy. Although fewer than half of American adults achieve this target, most public transportation passengers do exercise the recommended amount while walking to and from transit stations and stops.[2] The report goes on to explain that inadequate physical activity, and resulting excessive body weight, contribute to heart and vascular diseases, strokes, diabetes, hypertensive diseases, osteoporosis, joint and back problems, colon and breast cancers, and depression.[3]

Among physically able adults, average annual medical expenditures are 32 percent lower for those who achieve physical activity targets than for those who are sedentary.

In addition to these health effects, there is also a personal financial benefit that affects mobility and underscores the importance of alternative forms of transportation. Among physically able adults, average annual medical expenditures are 32 percent lower for those who achieve physical activity targets ($1,019 per year) than for those who are sedentary ($1,349 per year).[4]

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Community design can also have a large impact on overall community health. According to the National Physical Activity Plan, neighborhood designs that support transit, such as walkability and mixed land use, support public health. Of people who have safe places to walk within 10 minutes of home, 43 percent achieve physical activity targets, compared with just 27 percent of people who live in less walkable areas.[5] According to AARP and The United States of Aging Survey, people age 65 and older who live in areas where houses are built closer to shops and services are less likely to stay home on any given day, and are more likely to use public transportation and walk to get around.[6]

Neighborhood designs that support transit, such as walkability and mixed land use, support public health

Worldwide, there are public policy efforts that strive to promote pedestrian safety, while also using transportation planning to improve health outcomes. Vision Zero, for example, is a global health initiative that seeks to work on urban planning, policy and design. Vision Zero aims to encourage alternative methods of transportation, and improve quality of life through reducing pedestrian injuries and eliminating road traffic fatalities. Locally, Bike Cleveland, a bicycling advocacy organization, partnered with the city of Cleveland to launch a Vision Zero city-wide plan. Those efforts have already begun to bear fruit with the creation of a working group that examines streets for “traffic calming” measures, such as concrete barriers, that are aimed at reducing speed limits and keeping pedestrians and cyclists safe.[7]

But since futuristic alternative transportation options that also seek to promote pedestrian safety and improve transportation efficiency (such as driverless cars and high-speed transport concepts like the Hyperloop) are still in early development, there is urgency to identify current transportation policy improvement opportunities to serve a rapidly aging Ohio population. These opportunities could include the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA) and Paratransit. Community Solutions research findings, conducted for the Age Friendly Cleveland project, indicate that Cleveland seniors rate GCRTA very highly, but seniors in Cleveland want to see more financial support for GCRTA, to improve reliability, ride quality (think potholes) and increase security during the GCRTA ride experience.

The conversation about the intersection of transportation and health and human services policy in Ohio is a timely one. We hope that you will join us in examining how to increase community access for Ohio’s seniors.



[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.