The built environment is an important factor in enabling people of all ages to be physically active on a daily basis whether for recreation or carrying out the tasks of everyday life. The extent to which a community has a system of well-maintained sidewalks and bike routes, safe means to cross busy roads, accessible and well-designed jogging paths, convenient and dependable public transit, and walking distance between homes, workplaces, schools and other common destinations, etc., defines the extent to which there are alternatives to the sole reliance on a car for everyday mobility. The built environment is the result of dynamics of land development involving builders, investors, consumers and public policies which over time have favored car-dominated developments that contribute to a decline in physical activity as people come to rely on cars for mobility. Transportation infrastructure and, therefore, transportation agencies, play a major role in the evolution of the built environment.
It is through public policies that a broader public interest is articulated to achieve goals that may not be realized through the free market and self interest of those involved in the development process. Zoning is perhaps the most well known of implementation options for achieving public goals affecting standards for land use and development. Others include subdivision regulations, road access management, impact fees, street design standards, and public investments in transportation infrastructure.
The overall aim of this project is to examine how and why some public agencies adopt polices that are intended to create a built environment that that supports physical activity and active living. Understanding how and why is essential to promote reformation of planning and policy processes to support active living. The OTREC portion of the project will focus on transportation agencies, including city and county departments of transportation and public works, congestion management agencies, metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), other regional transportation agencies, and state departments of transportation. The portion of the project focusing on city and county planning departments is being supported by the Active Living Research program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
To address the overall aim, we will answer the following questions:
1. What actions (e.g. policies, plans, standards, programs, etc.) can transportation agencies take to support active living?
2. Which agencies have taken these actions?
3. Why have these agencies adopted policy innovations that support active living? What factors influence adoption?
4. To what extent is health and active living a motivation for these actions?
5. Why don’t more agencies adopt such actions? What are the obstacles to active living?
Methods include a thorough literature review (print and web), an inventory of state DOT actions, interviews with innovative state DOTs, examining a random sample of MPOs and regional transportation plans, a survey of local and regional agencies that are undertaking best practices, and a random survey of MPOs and city/county agencies.