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Infrastructure Law to Advance Health-Friendly Transportation Improvements - PEW

Legislation signed by President Joe Biden on Nov. 15 broadly addresses U.S. infrastructure in a way not seen in almost 70 years. The bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act presents an opportunity to improve health equity, giving more Americans a chance to be as healthy as possible, through changes to the built environment and related initiatives.

Many provisions address key infrastructure concerns directly tied to health, for example, the availability of clean water, transportation improvements, and more effective land use. Expanded access to broadband internet, another priority in the legislation, also will help improve Americans’ health by connecting them to the care they need.

Health-friendly transportation improvements

Transportation options such as walking, bicycling, and public transportation, and ways in which streets and other community resources are designed, can play a pivotal role in health and equity. The law was drafted to increase investments in improved transportation. The federal money can be used to:

  • Prioritize projects that integrate trails and bikeways with public transportation, use public input in developing plans, consider race and income-based disparities in pedestrian and cyclist safety, provide access to jobs and services for low-income communities, connect communities historically severed by highway construction, and advance environmental protection and quality of life.

  • Support projects that would change street design and mitigate air pollution, flooding, and urban heat island effect, the reality that some urban areas are significantly warmer than surrounding areas because of development and human activities. The law prioritizes initiatives based on research and assessment of tree canopy gaps, flood-prone locations, and urban heat island hot spots within low-income and disadvantaged communities.

  • Replace school buses with those certified to reduce emissions and operate entirely or in part using an alternative fuel. The law prioritizes such replacements for high-need local educational agencies, Bureau of Indian Affairs-funded schools, and schools servicing children who reside on Native American land and in rural or low-income areas.

Built environments designed to promote more walking and bicycling can provide opportunities for increased physical activity, social interaction and cohesion, and lower traffic-related death and injury rates. Policies that promote the use of materials to mitigate high temperatures and reduce stormwater runoff, or reduce emissions by replacing diesel school buses with electric ones, also support positive health outcomes and help to revitalize neighborhoods economically.

However, transportation infrastructure is not equitably distributed across communities and has historically left some people unable to access the resources than can boost educational or employment prospects for residents. This law directs specific funding to disadvantaged communities of color and low-income communities to create opportunities for all to access a diversity of affordable transportation modes.


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