Twin Cities light rail project presents both opportunities and risks for health, according to report

January 5, 2012, Pew Health Group

The rezoning around a planned light rail line in the Twin Cities would create both opportunities and potential risks for the health of the people in the communities it would pass through, according to a health impact assessment (HIA) released today by PolicyLink, TakeAction Minnesota, and ISAIAH, a nonprofit coalition of 90 congregations of various faiths in the Minneapolis, St. Paul and St. Cloud region. The HIA was made possible through a grant by the Health Impact Project, which is a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts.

An HIA is a study that helps policy makers identify the likely health impacts of a decision in a field outside of health—in this case, the assessment is informing the rezoning process for a billion-dollar light rail line connecting the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The HIA has been successful in incorporating health issues into the policy discussion, and helping policy makers and community members see how issues like employment and access to transit affect health.

"The assessment of the light rail line in the shows the value of planning ahead. The HIA identifies benefits as well as unintended consequences, like the risk of displacing low-income residents along the corridor while there is still time to do something about them," said Aaron Wernham, M.D., director of the Health Impact Project. "For a decision like this, HIA can serve as a road map for decision makers who have to balance issues such as health and affordable housing with economic opportunities that come with transit and land-use planning."

The HIA highlighted the health benefits the light rail offers through increased access to transit, which connects people to grocery stores, doctors' offices, and other services. It would also facilitate access to jobs and bring customers to the many small and minority-owned businesses that line the corridor. Employment benefits health by allowing people to afford food, safe housing, and medical care. This HIA offered practical recommendations, such as making additional parking available during construction to help small businesses attract and retain shoppers.

The HIA also identified that when redevelopment occurs in the corridor, housing costs would likely rise and lead to health risks if lower-income residents struggle to afford necessities such as rent, food, heat, and medicine. The transit line passes through some of the region's most diverse and lowest-income communities.

If people moved because of rising prices, the cultural and social aspects of the communities would change dramatically. Research shows that when people are more actively engaged in a community, they are more likely to walk and shop in the neighborhood, to know their neighbors, and to look out for one another. These benefits translate into lower crime and violence, and better health outcomes.

The HIA study identified affordable housing as a community priority, and as a result of the report's recommendation, the St. Paul city council created a work group to identify ways to preserve and enhance access to housing for low-income residents. The council also commissioned feasibility analyses on two proposals prioritized by a community steering committee representing a wide range of organizations and interests. One program would expand the incentives to developers who provide affordable housing in new residential and mixed-use development projects and a pilot that would help cover the cost of reserving some of the housing close to proposed light rail stations for lower-income households.

Although all HIAs include a stakeholder engagement portion to guide the study, this project's level of engagement, particularly with low-income people and communities of color, was unprecedented in the city of St. Paul, according to the report. The project created a community steering committee of more than 20 organizations representing diverse constituents and interests, including labor, faith, housing, and neighborhood groups.

Health impact assessment is a fast-growing field in the United States. Transportation projects and planning are frequent HIA subjects, with at least two dozen HIAs conducted to inform decisions in that sector in the U.S. Other HIAs informing transit-oriented development include projects in Houston, in Pittsburg, CA, and in Los Angeles.

Explore further: Report offers framework for weighing health consequences of policies, projects

Related Stories

Report offers framework for weighing health consequences of policies, projects

September 8, 2011
Factoring health and related costs into decision making is essential to confronting the nation's health problems and enhancing public well-being, says a new report from the National Research Council, which adds that a health ...

Oregon Farm to School bill would benefit health through job creation, study finds

May 12, 2011
A bill in Oregon that would provide incentives to deliver fresh local food to schools would improve the health of the state's residents and, at the same time, create hundreds of new farm-industry jobs over a five- to 10-year ...

New study: Health reform to make health insurance affordable for nearly all families

April 27, 2011
Ninety percent of American families living above the federal poverty level will be able to afford health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, according to a new Commonwealth Fund report by Jonathan Gruber and Ian Perry ...

Recommended for you

Women run faster after taking newly developed supplement, study finds

January 19, 2018
A new study found that women who took a specially prepared blend of minerals and nutrients for a month saw their 3-mile run times drop by almost a minute.

Americans are getting more sleep

January 19, 2018
Although more than one in three Americans still don't get enough sleep, a new analysis shows first signs of success in the fight for more shut eye. According to data from 181,335 respondents aged 15 and older who participated ...

Wine is good for you—to a point

January 18, 2018
The Mediterranean diet has become synonymous with healthy eating, but there's one thing in it that stands out: It's cool to drink wine.

Sleep better, lose weight?

January 17, 2018
(HealthDay)—Sleeplessness could cost you when it's time to stand on your bathroom scale, a new British study suggests.

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.