Health and Transportation
The transportation system is one of the social determinants of health. A good transportation system can help people easily travel to grocery stores, work, doctor’s appointments and their family and friends’ houses. The transportation system can also be a barrier for if it doesn’t adequately serve all users due to the infrastructure itself or operational issues such as congestion.
Transportation infrastructure also affects health outcomes through air pollution from vehicles and by contributing to the urban heat island effect—where a density of impervious surfaces can heat up an area. Transportation has an impact on a variety of health outcomes including heart disease, obesity, asthma, heat-related illnesses and injury and death related to car crashes. Making active transportation options like walking or biking more viable helps to improve health outcomes. These modes help people increase physical activity and decrease the miles traveled by car, thereby decreasing air pollution. MnDOT is also working to improve health outcomes with its Toward Zero Deaths traffic safety initiative, which aims to decrease the number of deaths and serious injuries on the state’s roadways.
Transportation systems can spread disease in both livestock and human populations. Swift travel allows for faster spread across the state, country and world. The transportation system can also be involved in mitigating disease spread through restrictions placed on travel, as seen in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. People were asked to shelter in place and were sometimes prevented from traveling to other countries in attempts to slow the spread of disease.
A few different policy tools can help to improve health equity. Health Impact Assessments, Complete Streets Policies and Community Impact Assessments all try to promote a more holistic view of projects to ensure that health is included in the decision-making process.