UTA research blends public health measures in regional transportation plan


A UTA interdisciplinary team is formulating recommendations for the North Texas Council of Governments that take into account public health measures in a regional transportation plan.

Colleen Casey, an associate professor of public affairs in College of Architecture, Planning and Public Affairs, and Stephen Mattingly, an associate professor of civil engineering in the College of Engineering, are teaming up on the $40,000 North Central Texas Council of Governments grant that will yield:

  • An inventory of localized public health performance measures.
  • A data bank of transportation infrastructure elements that improve multiple public health objectives related to safety, air quality and physical activity.
  • Summary reports that document what's being used across the country and how those items affect socioeconomic and demographically diverse communities.
  • A final report for NCTCOG review and comment.

NCTCOG is a voluntary association that represents 230 member governments over a 16-county region that spans the Dallas-Fort Worth area and beyond. It counts as its members various counties, cities, school district and special district. The agency works on collaborative projects among its members and shares resources.

The NCTCOG grant is titled "Public Health Performance Measures and Their Role in the Regional Metropolitan Transportation Planning Process Project."

"Most transportation infrastructure decisions are made in relation to traffic and safety," Casey said. "We want to blend health decisions and impacts into the transportation decision-making process as well."

Casey and Mattingly said decisions about where to locate sidewalks can influence multiple public health objectives. For example, strategically locating sidewalks can encourage walking to school, hence improving physical activity among children, while also improving the overall safety of the pedestrian environment. Such information can help improve the overall health and safety benefit of Arlington school district routes between homes and campuses.

"Of course, cost always is a factor when governmental bodies are considering instituting some of these recommendations," Mattingly said. "But for too long, quantifying the benefits of such plans hasn't been a part of the process. Roads and their level of service should not be the sole method for assessing the efficacy of the transportation system. Cleaner air, improved access for all and fitter residents could be other criteria to consider and measure."

The project evaluates public health performance measures and their role in the regional metro transportation planning process. It links transportation decisions to public health, basically giving planners and decision makers a tool in which to measure these decisions. The system will take into account safety, air quality and physical activity.

NCTCOG establishes the Metropolitan Transportation Plan, which is a multimodal blueprint for transportation systems and services aimed at meeting the mobility needs of the NCTCOG area during the next 25 years.

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, a UTA Distinguished Alumna, has made fitness a central theme of her public service.

"Integrating public health recommendations into transportation planning can tangibly help to improve the quality of life for our residents," Mayor Price said. "Healthier communities are more engaged, friendly and productive. As residents explore active options to get around, including places to walk, bike, commute and exercise, communities that provide alternative transit options are becoming more attractive. Transportation systems that consider public health are the ones that will be more successful in the long run."

NCTCOG Senior Transportation Planner Kendall Wendling said public health is an emerging topic in the transportation planning realm.

"NCTCOG plans to use the research from the study to integrate public health into its long-range transportation plan," Wendling said. "This is beneficial research because NCTCOG is interested in quantifying the effects that transportation has on public health by establishing performance measures in the long-range transportation plan."

Nan Ellin, dean of the College of Architecture, Planning and Public Affairs, said the blending of public health in a regional transportation plan mirrors the platform of creating more sustainable communities envisioned in UTA's Strategic Plan 2020 | Bold Solutions: Global Impact.

"The research will inform transportation decisions that will enhance, rather than compromise, livability," Ellin said. "Public health should be a vital part of any decision the region makes concerning transportation."

Khosrow Behbehani, dean of the College of Engineering, said communities must develop alternatives to the ever-increasing demand for roads.

"This is an exciting example of how data from multiple disciplines can be integrated in order to achieve a higher level of efficiency and ease of transportation," Behbehani said.

Casey and Mattingly said they want to make their recommendations user-friendly so that NCTCOG's entities can easily use their insights. The professors plan to compile best practices across the region and nation to create a menu of recommendations for NCTCOG members.

Their work builds upon Mattingly's 2013 grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to conduct research on a variety of topics related to the development of Livable Communities. Mattingly's grant places UTA in partnership with Western Michigan University, Wayne State University, Utah State University and Tennessee State University as researchers of the Transportation Research Center for Livable Communities.

Co-principal investigators of the 2013 grant include Casey, Professors Sia Ardekani and James Williams of Civil Engineering and Professor Jianling Li in CAPPA.

Casey is leading a TRCLC research study with Mattingly that supports the work for NCTCOG titled "Developing Performance Measures To Capture the Effects of Transportation Facilities on Multiple Public Health Outcomes."

Other projects funded by the center focus on how the use of technology and crowd sourcing to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety, including transportation costs more effectively into affordable housing calculations and evaluating the transportation needs/gaps for the elderly non-driving population.

Casey co-authored a published paper in Public Works Management and Policy that explored opportunities for engaging public health organizations in transportation planning in 2015. Co-authors were Li and Lou K. Brewer, Tarrant County health director.

UTA has a robust education and research emphasis in transportation. Several professors and students make up the Transportation Research Group.

Recent research projects and studies include: developing a comprehensive pricing evaluation model for managed lanes, developing an Irving bicycle and pedestrian safety study, developing an integrated or smart corridor management demonstration project and on-road measurement of air quality. NCTCOG, TxDOT, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Texas Transportation Institute have supported these projects and others under way.


About The University of Texas at Arlington

The University of Texas at Arlington is a Carnegie "highest research activity" institution of more than 50,000 students in campus-based and online degree programs and is the second-largest institution in The University of Texas System. The Chronicle of Higher Education ranked UTA as one of the 20 fastest-growing public research universities in the nation in 2014. U.S. News & World Report ranks UTA fifth in the nation for undergraduate diversity. UTA is a Hispanic-Serving Institution and is ranked as the top four-year college in Texas for veterans on Military Times' 2016 Best for Vets list. Visit http://www.uta.edu to learn more, and find UTA rankings and recognition at http://www.uta.edu/uta/about/rankings.php.

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