Health-Oriented Transportation Innovation Scholars conclude program with unique case studies

Photo Credit: UW-Madison; City of Milwaukee

From streetcars in Milwaukee and aging buses in Madison, to cleaner air and better bikes, the 2019-2020 Health-Oriented Transportation (HOT) Innovation Scholars brought local perspectives to international issues of transportation and health upon completion of their coursework and final projects.

The HOT scholarship program, offered through the University of Wisconsin-Madison Global Health Institute (GHI) and Department of Planning and Landscape Architecture, seeks to elevate health-oriented transportation activities in Wisconsin with a focus on innovative connections between related fields and UW-Madison students.

This year, 11 students participated – nine graduate students, one non-degree seeking student and one undergraduate student. They came from UW-Madison’s School of Medicine and Public Health and the Colleges of Engineering and Letters and Sciences.

Carey McAndrews, an associate professor in the UW-Madison Department of Planning and Landscape Architecture and co-leader of the HOT Innovation Scholarship program along with GHI Director Jonathan Patz, explained the importance of the scholars’ work.

“The Health-Oriented Transportation project introduced students to cross-disciplinary efforts to link public health with transportation all across the state,” McAndrews says. “We are excited to share these cases of innovation and be part of a larger effort to create healthy, safe and inclusive communities.

The program was designed to foster research, practice and outreach while also training students to inventory statewide activities in health and transportation. Students also prepared case studies to show how organizations could reach the next level health and transportation integration.

Megan Agnew, a doctoral student in the Department of Population Health Sciences, explains the significance of the HOT scholarship program and the projects generated by students.

“While there are many examples of these types of initiatives internationally, it is very encouraging, and important, to see so many innovative ideas so close to home,” Agnew says. “In order to build momentum to promote active transportation policy in Wisconsin and the Midwest, we need to use local examples from areas with similar social and cultural backgrounds.”

During the experience, students also worked with organized stakeholders to develop a research and policy agenda/action plan for health-oriented transportation organization and action in Wisconsin. Using what they learned, they convened a cross-campus meeting of active transportation interests to develop a plan and submit proposals to other sponsors for ongoing activities.

Agnew’s project focused on the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s (RTC) Route of the Badger project, which she says aims to improve trail connectivity to promote equitable and healthy recreation, transportation options and economic well-being for communities in southeastern Wisconsin.

The project demonstrates the importance of collaboration and deep connections. “I have learned so much from the conversations that I’ve had with the staff at RTC about the challenges of building an extensive trail network, as well as the policy process more generally,” she says. “This experience has demonstrated how necessary it is to create meaningful connections with people of different political affiliations, fields, and backgrounds in order to garner the amount of support needed to get a large project like this off the ground.”

Student’s efforts culminated in the following case study projects.

  • Route of the Badger: Improving Trail Connectivity in Southeastern Wisconsin, Megan Agnew, School of Medicine and Public Health

Wisconsin is a national leader in creating regional multi-use trail networks. How can a statewide health and transportation research, policy, and implementation program support these trails and maximize their public health impact?

  • Eco-driving for Cleaner Air in Wisconsin, Alex Allon, College of Letters & Science

In 2013, Wisconsin’s Clean Cities Coalition received federal transportation funding to implement eco-driving training for over-the-road truckers and fleets in southeast Wisconsin. Eco-driving involves driving techniques that maximize the vehicle’s energy efficiency and is a relatively low-cost, immediate way to reduce fuel consumption and emissions. How can this program expand statewide and include personal transportation?

  • Wisconsin Traffic Crash Database Improvement, Beau Burdett, College of Engineering

Law enforcement typically uses paper crash report forms but these delay reporting and are not consistent with current federal guidelines. In 2017, Wisconsin updated its crash report form and moved to 100 percent electronic reporting. This facilitates linking the database with health care system data. How can these new data sets be deployed to support injury prevention in the state?

  • The Future of the Streetcar, Milwaukee, WI, Sofie Druckrey, College of Engineering

Milwaukee opened the Hop streetcar in 2018 and envisions its expansion, but this is contingent on financing as well as adopting parallel measures to prevent gentrification and expand workforce development. What are the health benefits and health costs associated with integrated economic development, community development, and public transit interventions in contemporary cities?

  • La Crosse, WI, Walking School Bus Program, Amy Fottrell, College of Letters & Science

The La Crosse School District brought together many different stakeholders including school principals, parents, and the local police department to envision and plan for walking school bus routes and supervisor coordination. Today, nine schools have implemented walking school bus routes and the district reports that kids who participate engage in more physical activity, are more alert and ready to participate when they arrive at school and learn to handle traffic safely. Can we fully document the health and environmental benefits of innovations in active school travel?

  • Application of the HOT model to the 2001 Wisconsin Add-on to the National Household Travel Survey (NHTS), Henry Fremont, Special Student

We apply the HOT Model to the NHTS-WI Add-On. We format the data for use in the HOT Toolkit and consider the results.

  • BCycle Launch of Electric-Assist Bikes, Nicholas Mailloux, College of Letters & Science

In June 2019, Madison, Wisconsin, became the first city in the United States to adopt a fully electric-assist bike share fleet. The program is run by BCycle, a subsidiary of Trek Bikes that

operates bike share programs in more than 40 US cities. Electric-assist bikes promise to expand the number and types of people who bike regularly in cities. What are the health, environmental, and transportation outcomes of the new bikeshare fleet?

  • Right-Turn Flashing Yellow Arrows, Hiba Nassereddine, College of Engineering

Transportation agencies are starting to deploy flashing yellow arrows (FYA) on right turns to improve the safety of vehicle-pedestrian interactions. One premise for the use of right turn FYA is that the indication will reinforce the message that drivers need to yield to conflicting pedestrians. Traditional safety evaluations rely on crash history to evaluate the safety of a countermeasure. If detailed interactions can be modeled and understood, the safety of FYA can be evaluated without the need for crash history.

  • Renewing Madison’s Bus Fleet, Fred Song, College of Engineering

Madison Metro’s bus fleet is aging and majorly runs on diesel, which generates emissions that are harmful to the environment and human health. The city needs to invest in  clean technologies to renew the bus fleet, possibly clean diesel buses or an electric fleet. Environmentalists have advocated for adopting zero-emission electric vehicles. However, the operation of electric buses needs a major update to happen to the 40-year-old bus barn on East Washington Avenue to add charging facilities. What are the public health tradeoffs of adopting clean diesel today or waiting to implement an electric fleet in the future? How can the transit agency use health metrics in its fleet decision?

  • Collaborative Development of a Walking Map for Wisconsin, Yicong Yang, College of Letters & Science

Creating safe pedestrian networks requires different interventions for different user groups. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) and Wisconsin Walks, Inc. collaboratively developed and distributed a walking map for Sheboygan, Wis. The maps can serve the needs of different user groups, including historical education, health and recreation, transportation, and tourism. Can maps, including GIS and open data, be a tool that helps form a basis for successful public health and transportation collaboration?

  • Carepool Ridesharing Platform, Daniel Zhou, College of Letters & Science

Carepool operates like a transportation-network company for paratransit. Its software platform connects older travelers and riders with disabilities with drivers. It has a fleet of 60 drivers, operating in La Crosse, Dane, and Waukesha counties. Riders who need paratransit, or their caregivers, can schedule rides online through the Carepool website for rides. The current challenge is that all fleet vehicles in Carepool are the personal vehicles of the drivers, none of which are currently wheelchair accessible. This excludes a portion of paratransit riders who need accessible vehicles. What is the potential to apply novel ride-sourcing models to the paratransit and non-emergency medical transportation sectors?

As an avid runner and cyclist, Agnew says she has a vested interest in infrastructure that promotes active transportation for the health and safety of herself and others. But it was also her hope for more equitable transportation systems that fueled her interest in the HOT scholar’s program.

“I hope that these projects will push transportation policy change in Wisconsin to be more focused on health promotion and equity,” Agnew says. “Everyone deserves a chance to have access to safe and well-kept trails in their communities for physical activity and transportation.

By Gretchen Gerlach // Aug. 6, 2020