What Does Health Got to do with it? Metro’s Relationship to Health

The Portland region is often commended for it’s smart growth and planning. Benefits of our planning efforts have resulted in a range of transportation options, access to parks and greenspaces, and livable and walkable neighborhoods, to name a few. An often overlooked, yet important benefit is the positive impact that our planning efforts have on our health. Neighborhood and downtown areas have sidewalks and crosswalks that ensure people can walk safely, bike lanes have been installed all over the region, trails and greenways are being improved and expanded, and, because of the transportation options available, fewer people are driving–that leads to cleaner

Projects promoting pedestrian and bicycle friendly environments are becoming more common, responding to citizen demand and a greater realization that more walkable communities prosper economically as well. In addition, research shows a clear relationship between land use, community design, and transportation planning and health. One reason for focusing on community health is increased health care costs. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2000, adult physical inactivity resulted in direct medical expenses totaling more than $76 billion. In addition, more than a third of young people in grades 9-12 do not regularly engage in vigorous physical activity.

Much of Metro’s work promotes health. For example, we have worked hard over the years to preserve parks and greenspaces throughout the region, we have provided funding for trails that people can use to bike or hike on, and promoted the development of vibrant downtowns and livable streets that allow people to walk to stores instead of driving. In addition, we are leaders in providing transportation options. For example the Regional Travel Options Program (RTO) is a coordinated effort with public agencies and business organizations to promote and support transportation options in order reduce the number of drive alone trips in the region. Also, Metro produces the Bike There! map. This map provides a snapshot of bike lanes and multi-use paths in the Portland metropolitan region, rating selected through-streets where bicyclists share the road with motorists.

It is my hope that we can continue to integrate the health perspective in the current work that we are doing around planning for the future and updating our regional transportation plan. Take a look at the links below to learn more about the research and organizations that are taking a look at this issue.

Active Living Research: The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is sponsoring a coordinated response to find creative approaches for re-integrating physical activity into American life.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Active Community Environments Initiative (ACES)
:  CDC’s Active Community Environments Initiative (ACES) promotes walking, bicycling, and the development of accessible recreation facilities. It was developed in response to data from a variety of disciplines, including public health, urban design, and transportation planning.

National Association of County and City Health Officials, Community Design project: This project’s goal is to raise the awareness of local public health officials so that they can proactively participate in land use planning decisions.

Transportation Research Board, a division of the National Research Council, has produced a number of publications addressing the relationship between the built environment, transportation, and health including one report entitled “Does the Built Environment Influence Physical Activity” (PDF, 1.5M).

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