Imagine you are a municipal transportation planner. You know that your transportation decisions may affect the health of the population, and you’re very interested in minimizing negative health impacts and maximizing health benefits. As a transportation planner, you also want to keep traffic moving, and that includes considering modes of transportation other than cars, such as cycling and walking. But how do you know whether, and how, your transportation plan will affect walking and cycling levels? How do you know which transportation scenario is the more favourable one from a health perspective? You know where to find and how to collect data on traffic and transportation, but what health data are available?
Municipal transportation planners are familiar with some of the sources of injury data, but struggle with finding data for other health indicators such as levels of physical activity and rates of diabetes. They find it even harder to know how to connect transportation and health data to assess the impact of these indicators in a meaningful way. They must also consider how best to collect transportation data related to active modes of transportation in a format that will allow comparison over time, between jurisdictions within the same region, and between regions.
These are some of the needs that were identified through interviews held with transportation planners and engineers in local and regional governments, health authorities, regional planning and transportation authorities, the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia and the B.C. Injury Research and Prevention Unit in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia (B.C.).
These issues are discussed in a new report entitled, Health and active transportation: an inventory of municipal data collection and needs in the Lower Mainland of B.C., prepared by Erna van Balen and Meghan Winters of Simon Fraser University. Produced under the Healthy Canada by Design CLASP Initiative with funding provided by Health Canada through the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer (CPAC), this report identifies the sources of transportation and health data that can be used to inform transportation planning, and how these sources can be accessed in the B.C. context. It also describes some promising practices related to the collection, sharing, and visualization of data to assess health impacts related to transportation decisions. Lastly, the report provides recommendations for action using a tiered approach; one which allows municipalities to identify the next steps that are appropriate to their needs for moving forward to integrate health considerations into the transportation planning process.
This report will be useful to transportation planners and health authorities in B.C. and Canada-wide. Transportation planners may learn more about the type of health data that are available, whereas health authorities may find it helpful to know what transportation-related data and information may be available to them.
Author: Erna van Balen, Knowledge Translation Coordinator, Simon Fraser University