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Community Design

Community Design Elements

The health and safety of a community are influenced by many factors. The Tracking Network contains information about community design elements (see text box) that are related to some of the leading causes of death and disability in the United States, such as injuries, heart disease, diabetes, and asthma.

Community Design Elements on the Tracking Network
  • Access to Parks and Schools
  • Commute Time
  • Motor Vehicle Crashes
  • Proximity to Highways
  • Types of Transportation to Work
Access to Parks and Schools

In a well-designed community, homes, parks, stores, and schools are connected by safe walking and biking routes. Such routes allow all members of the community a chance to enjoy the outdoors and get physical and mental health benefits. The closer you live to a park or school, the more likely you are to walk or bike to those places. However, only a small number of people in the United States live within half a mile of a park or public school.

Commute Time

Time spent commuting is associated with several health outcomes, dependent on travel mode. Longer commute times are generally linked to decreased psychological health. Commuting by car for longer periods of time is associated with decreased physical activity and increased levels of obesity. Walking, bicycling, and taking public transportation to work are shown to increase physical activity and are negatively associated with obesity. Commute time is an important measure for assessing the health and environmental impacts of existing transportation systems and the built environment. Having a measure of trip duration by transportation mode allows for a better understanding of the environmental exposures and health outcomes related to commuting.

Motor Vehicle Crashes

Community design has a large influence on safety issues. Choices in the design of a transportation system can influence both how much people walk and bike, and their risk of injury or death. Among developed countries, the United States has one of the highest per capita rates of motor vehicle-related fatalities. Motor vehicle-related injuries are a leading cause of death for children and young adults ages 3-34 years.

Motor Vehicle Fatalities

Walking and biking have numerous health benefits, including reducing the burden of chronic diseases and supporting positive mental health. Despite these benefits, pedestrians, bicyclists, and other non-motor vehicle occupants are at risk of death from contact with motor vehicles. Fortunately, smart community design can play an important role in preventing fatalities from motor vehicle crashes. Elements such as speed bumps, well-designed sidewalks, and raised crosswalks can increase safety and reduce risk.

Proximity to Highways

Traffic is one of the largest contributors to unhealthy air quality. Motor vehicles contribute to more than 50% of air pollution in urban areas. Exposure to traffic pollution has been linked to many adverse health effects including:

  • making asthma symptoms worse,
  • decreased lung function,
  • cardiovascular disease,
  • adverse birth outcomes, and
  • childhood cancer.

Higher concentrations of traffic pollution are typically found near roadways. Exposure to higher concentrations of traffic pollution can affect the health of people who live, ride in vehicles, and walk or bicycle near roadways. A person's health may be affected by both short- and long-term exposure to traffic pollution.

Types of Transportation to Work

Taking public transportation, carpooling, walking, and bicycling to work can have environmental, economic, and personal health benefits. Walking, bicycling, and public transportation promote regular physical activity, reduce traffic congestion, and decrease air pollution from cars, which in turn reduce chronic disease rates, obesity rates, and traffic related fatalities.

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