Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Dallas Morning News recently reported on a new poll  by our friends at Transportation For America.  The poll found that 87% of those living in big cities would benefit from “an expanded and improved public transportation system.”  Two thirds of those surveyed said they wanted more transportation options and a majority want more money spent on public transportation.  However, Reporter Michael Lindenberger noted the poll showed less enthusiasm to paying for expanded transportation options and  “supporters would likely not support bills that end up putting trains and buses in other people's neighborhoods.” 

Lindenberger sees the poll “as an opening volley, and helpful one, in what will soon be a ferocious battle among advocacy groups, lobbyists, industry and state and local governments as the scrum over the next federal authorization bill commences…The current funding scheme -- which includes 20-cents per gallon gasoline tax to fund the highway trust fund and transit -- would only produce a little more than half that much money over six years, and so any talk of a massive increase in spending will either mean more borrowing or new tax increases, or both."

No doubt resolving the funding mechanism will be a huge issue for Congress to resolve now that health reform is off their desk.  For those of us concerned about the positive role the transportation reauthorization bill and transportation funding can play in public health the recent poll offers both good and bad news.  Three times more of those surveyed perceived rail/light rail as being a neglected Federal priority versus bike paths and trails.  Indeed when asked the best reason to support expanded public transportation options, only 7% of those surveyed cited improved public health in contrast to 22% citing reduced dependence on foreign oil. 

The good news is that a majority (63%) felt people’s health would improve.  Smaller portions of those surveyed said transportation reforms would improve quality of life, reduce air pollution, improve health, improve safety on the roads and reduce global warming.

The poll is a useful reminder that while those of us in the prevention community may be convinced of the integral relationship between transportation decisions and public health, the American public have other priorities. 

Clearly the public is receptive to our message.  81% of those surveyed agreed with the statement that a “better network of roads and trails that are safe for walking and bicycling would help Americans stay active and healthy.  Kids could walk or bike to school, families and workers would have better transportation options and those who chose to walk or bicycle can be healthier.” We need to convert agreement into motivation for reform.  More work needs to be done to increase public interest in the health dividends of  transportation reform...and a willingness to pay for them.  Good health and improved quality of life are worth paying for.      

Ripley Forbes
Director, Government Affairs


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