A New Planning Tool: Health Impact Assessments

October 25, 2010

Recently, I’ve been hearing a lot about Health Impact Assessments (HIAs). Last week I attended RailVolution where there was a panel on this tool. And last week’s PSU Transportation Seminar was a report on such an assessment for the Bike/Trail master plan in Clark County. The talk gives an excellent overview of what this tool is all about, you can listen to it here (MP3, 28.4M).

I’m most familiar with HIAs in the context of transportation projects, where generally the factors considered are how will the project impact air quality (either by increasing or reducing emissions) and what opportunities for active transportation (biking, walking) are created or destroyed.

It seems to me that HIAs could be a significant driver for building out our bicycle master plan – but we don’t seem to have made the political connection yet between bicycle transportation and public health. I hope that will change, and maybe HIAs can be part of that process.

This is particularly timely as we’ve just added a public health professional, Dr. Gary Oxman, the public health officer for Multnomah County to our Planning and Sustainability Commission.

So this question for today is: as we develop the health strategy component of the Portland Plan, at what level should we apply HIAs as an analysis tool?


One comment

  1. My particular focus is on the neighborhoods that surround schools. And given that schools are prevalent throughout most cities, towns, and suburbs, they can have a profound effect on most people, whether or not they have children of school age.

    However, there currently is precious little (if any) technical/planning guidance on siting schools that help promote physical activity. So, in an effort to provide such guidance, we developed the Active School Neighborhood Checklist (ASNC). This is what is sometimes referred to as a ‘desk-top’ health impact assessment. It is quicker to complete and is more focused on ‘on-the-ground’ bike-ped infrastructure, and less so on policies.

    The development team included SRTS coordinators from six states, traffic engineers, state and federal public health professionals, school siting agencies, HUD, EPA, and the federal SRTS Program. We feel this makes the ASNC a fair, robust instrument.

    The ASNC doesn’t rely on information extracted from GIS shape files. Although this is very convenient for the user, it can sometimes neglect to show the whole picture. Instead, the ASNC requires the user — using a team of disciplines — to answer a battery of questions, mostly about the built environment, traffic, etc., but also about local programs and policies that promote — or prevent — walkable/bikeable communities. Unlike other assessment instruments, the ASNC recognizes barriers to walking and bicycling — wide streets, high traffic volumes, high posted speed limits, discontinuous walking routes, unbridged railways, ditches, and canals.

    I’ve included the link below, if you’re interested in downloading a copy of the ASNC:

    http://www.azdot.gov/srts — then click on ‘Applications, Forms, and Guidance,’ and then on ‘Application Documents.’

    I would be happy to chat more about this with you. Please don’t hesitate to contact me.


    Brian Fellows
    Safe Routes To School Program Coordinator
    Arizona Department of Transportation
    (602) 712-8010

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