Complete Streets Key to Achieving Health Equity

The Active Streets Program – now moving in the state legislature – is an essential strategy to address health inequities that plague Massachusetts and the nation.  While the program aims to provide benefit for all communities, it is low income communities and communities of color who suffer the most from the effects of “incomplete streets” – that is, places with a lack of safe sidewalks, cross walks, safe routes for biking and walking, and reliable public transit options.

Complete streets, also known as active streets,  can encourage more physical activity in the course of daily life, something which is especially important in low income communities because of the disproportionate burden of obesity and chronic disease. It’s because of these health inequities facing African-Americans that the NAACP has prioritized improvements in the built environment as a key health improvement strategy.

But active streets are not only about physical activity. Low-income families and families of color are much more likely to not own a car, making the burden of incomplete streets even greater. Unsafe streets and lack of transportation options lead to higher pedestrian fatality rates, higher transportation costs, poor air quality, and barriers to opportunity that stand in the way of health, education, and prosperity for too many Massachusetts residents.

Consider just a few facts:

  • Nationally, the pedestrian fatality rate for Latinos is over 60% higher than the rate for whites, and the rate for African-Americans is almost 75% higher than for whites. In low-income counties, the pedestrian fatality rate is more than 80% higher than the national average.
  • Kids of color are more likely to live in communities with poor air quality and more likely to suffer from asthma compared to their white peers.
  • Families without cars depend on transit, pedestrian, and bicycle infrastructure to make it to work, school, and medical appointments safely and on time.
  • Low-income children in urban areas are more likely to walk or bike to school and depend on safe and complete streets.

The Active Streets Program is a part of the solution to these problems.  The program will provide an important resource for communities to improve the safety of streets for transit riders, pedestrian, and cyclists.

Learn more about transportation and health equity from the National Complete Streets Coalition and Policy Link. Also, check out the recent article from Mikaela Randolph and Randall Benjamin, “Activating Places for Physical Activity: When “Honey Go Outside and Play” Isn’t Enough.”