Effective Transportation Agency Practices to Support Healthy Food Accessibility
The problems of food deserts, access to healthy foods, and
food system sustainability are usually framed as land use, economic
development, environmental, and/or food policy problems, not as transportation
problems. Yet, a small—but
growing—number of studies show a relationship between transportation and access
to healthy foods. The problem of healthy food access, like all accessibility problems,
is multi-dimensional and requires agencies address transportation, land use,
social equity, and public health in ways that fit the local community and context.
As transportation agencies have a core competency in addressing accessibility
challenges, they are uniquely suited to contributing to solutions to this
important dimension of physical health. Further, transportation agencies
control a wide range of facilities and resources which have can be potentially leveraged
to support better access to healthy food, supporting the efforts of other
agencies and organizations to improve public health.
In recent years, there has been a rising tide in
policy, research and practice to strengthen the link between health and
transportation. While there is some concern that expanding the role of the
state DOT to activities outside mobility, many transportation agencies are
responding to calls for integrated approaches to health and health-related
accessibility, including making food access part of their work. For example,
The Massachusetts DOT launched a program to give farmers space for market
stands at turnpike service plazas. The
Chicago Transit Authority provided several transit buses that were repurposed
as mobile fresh food markets. In California, legislation allows community
gardens on unoccupied and unimproved public property. New York State DOT
partnered to renovate an abandoned gas station as a local farmers’ market,
combining agri-tourism with fresh food access to commuters. In North Carolina,
the Rutherford County rural transit authority partnered with the state DOT to
operate a weekly ‘grocery shuttle’ to connect low-income residents with a local
food bank. The Maryland State Highway Administration sponsors a program focused
on staff engagement in an agency-wide food drive program; MDSHA facilities
across the state including administrative buildings, emissions testing
stations, and even toll plazas served as food donation collection points.
This statement suitable for graduate student dissertation or thesis research.
Collected, synthesized, and evaluated, diverse practices that support healthy food accessibility can support and inform agencies as they increasingly integrate health into
transportation decision making.
According to the Institute of Medicine, two-thirds of adults
and one-third of children are overweight or obese in the US, and the epidemic
is responsible for 21% of national medical expenditures. Public health and medical professionals once
viewed obesity as a problem of individual behaviors and choices. They now have shifted their framework toward
a systems perspective that includes household, community, and policy-level risk
factors. It is within this overall
context that scholars and practitioners have begun to examine the relationship
between obesity (and other health outcomes) and access to grocery stores and
other sources of healthy food.
Although residents of rural areas, low-income households,
racial and ethnic minorities, older adults, persons with disabilities, and
children may have ready access to food, they are the most likely populations to
have limited access to healthy foods.
These are the same populations that may have limited access to other
essential services. Thus, this synthesis
on food environments and transportation contributes to the larger policy aim of
improving accessibility options for all travelers.
Bjorn, A., Lee, B., Born, B., Monsivais, P., Kantor, S.,
Sayre, R. 2008. “Mapping Food Insecurity and Access in
Seattle and King County.” Report prepared for Seattle & King County Acting
Food Policy Council.
Dohan, M., Fisher, A., Gottlieb, R., O'Connor, L., Parks, V.
1996. “Homeward bound: Food-related transportation strategies in low income and
transit dependent communities.” University of California Transportation Center
WP 366, 1-77.
Glickman, D., Parker, L., Sim, L.J., Del Valle Cook, H.,
Miller, E.A. 2012. “AcceleratingProgress in Obesity Prevention: Solving the
Weight of the Nation.” Committee on Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention;
Food and Nutrition Board. Washington, D.C.: Institute of Medicine.
Larsen, L., Grengs, J., Billings, J., Provonsha, E.
Spangler, K., Sponseller, A. 2012. “An Integrated Assessment of Transportation
to Healthy Food in Eastern Washtenaw County.” Report prepared for City of
Ypsilanti, Community and Economic Development; Washtenaw County, Public Health
Department; Washtenaw County, Economic Development.
Nashville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization. 2010. “Nashville Area MPO 2035 Regional
Transportation Plan.” Nashville, TN.
Whitacre, P.T., Tsai, P., Mulligan, J. 2009. “The Public
Health Effects of Food Deserts: Workshop Summary.” Food and Nutrition Board,
Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources, Board on Population Health and
Public Health Practice. Washington, D.C.: Institute of Medicine & National
(1) Literature review: Identify the various dimensions of
food accessibility that are within the purview of transportation agencies. This
portion of the project will draw from existing research and practice to define
the elements of healthy food accessibility where transportation agencies can
make positive contributions.
(2) Survey of practice: Identify examples of existing
transportation interventions to improve access to healthy food. Examples should
include projects and programs implemented in urban and rural areas, along with
a brief evaluation of their successes and limitations, as well as their potential
for wider adoption and applicability to diverse settings.
(3) Evaluation of the challenges and obstacles: Challenges
to state DOT involvement in food accessibility issues include regulatory
constraints such as the Rest Area Act of 1960 which limits the commercial
activities allowed on roadside rest area property. Other possible issues could include
the erosion of transportation-specific operations due to the use of the facility
for other activities such as food markets, resulting in negative safety impacts
or reduced levels of service for transportation system users. Transportation
agencies may also face organizational or institutional barriers stemming from
caution over taking on new areas of responsibility that may divert resources
away from more traditional projects and programs. Beyond a simple list of
challenges, this task should include an assessment of the motivations and
concerns that underlie them, so as to help federal, state, and local agencies
develop effective strategies to overcome them.
(4) Case studies: Provide well-developed case studies of a
selected set of practices that offer the greatest potential for impact and
broader implementation. The case studies should highlight how any challenges to
implementation were overcome.
(5) On-line resources: Develop practitioner-ready resources
that can be used to integrate food accessibility into planning, projects, and
programs. These resources should aim to support agencies as they work to
address health issues, whether through the adoption of new methods such as
Health Impact Assessments (HIAs) or by integrating health into existing processes.
Potential partners and funding sources should also be identified.
(6) Future research agenda: Describe any gaps in knowledge
that need to be addressed to advance capacity to address food accessibility in transportation
research and practice.
For transportation agencies taking up the practice of HIAs, or including health factors in their performance measurement/evaluation criteria programs, the project will support their efforts by providing a ready resource of existing and emerging practices.
|Sponsoring Committee:||ADD20, Social and Economic Factors of Transportation
|Research Period:||12 - 24 months|
|RNS Developer:||Carey McAndrews and Ann Hartell|
|Source Info:||This statement was developed jointly by ADD20 Social and Economic Factors of Transportation and ADD50-01 Health + Transportation Subcommittee (sponsored by ADD50 Environmental Justice in Transportation, ADD40 Transportation and Sustainability, ADB10 Travel Behavior and Values, and ABJ30 Urban Data and Information Systems). |
Ann Hartell, MRP (ADD20)
Dept. of Socioeconomics
Carolyn McAndrews, PhD (Health + Transportation)
Dept. Planning and Design
University of Colorado, Denver
1250 14th Street, Ste 330
Denver, CO 80202
|Index Terms:||Land use planning, Sustainable development, Public health, Food, Deserts, Accessibility, Policy making, Low income groups, |
|Cosponsoring Committees:||ADD40, Transportation and Sustainability|
Planning and Forecasting|
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