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The road to health


Transportation planning is no longer about simply making sure that vehicles can get from here to there as easily and with as few mishaps as possible.

As a discipline, it has become more holistic. It now emphasizes tying public transportation to communities and destinations, accommodating cyclists and pedestrians on key corridors, and making sure that main streets complement downtowns instead of encouraging drivers to zip right through.

In the Rochester area, the Genesee Transportation Council and the Finger Lakes Health Systems Agency are working together to examine the health impacts of the transportation decisions made in the region.

"If you don't have good public health, you don't have a good standard of living," says Rich Perrin, executive director of the Genesee Transportation Council.

The FLHSA will work backward from existing transportation plans to see how those plans could have been put together with the health of the users in mind, says Elizabeth Murphy, the agency's active transportation specialist. The idea isn't to redo existing plans, she says, but to look for ways to incorporate FLHSA's collections of community health data into new plans going forward.

Murphy offers a hypothetical example: If a community has a population of people with chronic health problems that could be helped by physical activity, she says, the plan could recommend putting a biking and walking path nearby.

Agency staff members expect to develop some informal tools that would help community and regional planners "make more powerful recommendations to improve health," Murphy says.

Perrin says that the effort will also likely focus on how transportation planning can improve access to health care services, particularly among seniors and the region's lower-income residents.