Characterizing Urban Traffic Exposures Using Transportation Planning Tools: An Illustrated Methodology for Health Researchers
Exposure to elevated levels of vehicular traffic has been associated with adverse cardiovascular and respiratory health effects in a range of populations, including children, the elderly, and individuals with pre-existing heart conditions, diabetes, obesity, and genetic susceptibilities. As these relationships become clearer, public health officials will need to have access to methods to identify areas of concern in terms of elevated traffic levels and susceptible populations. This paper briefly reviews current approaches for characterizing traffic exposure and then presents a detailed method that can be employed by public health officials and other researchers in performing screening assessments to define areas of potential concern within a particular locale and, with appropriate caveats, in epidemiologic studies examining traffic-related health impacts at the intra-urban scale. The method is based on two exposure parameters extensively used in numerous epidemiologic studies of traffic and health—proximity to high traffic roadways and overall traffic density. The method is demonstrated with publically available information on susceptible populations, traffic volumes, and Traffic Analysis Zones, a transportation planning tool long used by Metropolitan Planning Agencies and planners across the USA but presented here as a new application which can be used to spatially assess possible traffic-related impacts on susceptible populations. Recommendations are provided for the appropriate use of this methodology, along with its limitations.