PedNet Coalition Works to Improve Health Through Better Public Transit

April 3, 2012

Home to the University of Missouri, Columbia is considered one of the state’s most livable cities, with a number of educational, economic and cultural opportunities available. It is also the seat of Boone County, which ranked well according to the 2011 County Health Rankings—10th out of 114 counties in Missouri for health outcomes and 2nd for health factors. 

But with an eye toward further improvement, a local coalition has started to tackle one of Columbia’s greatest obstacles to health: reliable public transportation. Recent budget cuts have forced the city to raise bus fares and reduce routes, making it harder for many low-income residents to get to work and school, to grocery stores selling healthy foods and to health clinics located across town. 
Education, employment, and access to healthy foods and health care services are all important determinants of health. That’s why PedNet—a coalition of community members, business representatives, schools and agencies seeking to increase active living in Columbia—and its partners, including the Central Missouri Community Action and the Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services, are using a Roadmaps to Health Community Grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to raise public awareness about the economic and health tolls of cutting bus services.    
In addition to supporting a campaign that has engaged local university students to advocate for better transportation options, the partnership will use a tool called a health impact assessment to demonstrate to decision makers the connection between expanded public transit options, employment and health. The long-term goal is to create a transit authority with a dedicated tax base that ultimately triples public transportation services in Columbia by 2014, helping all residents lead healthier lives. 
“A reliable, efficient public transportation system makes it easier for low-income workers to obtain and keep employment,” said Michelle Windmoeller, assistant director of the PedNet Coalition and Roadmaps Grant manager. “Studies have shown that improvement in employment and economic factors has a positive impact on health.”