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Health and mobility – a design protocol for mobilising healthy living

Urban life demands significant transport and mobility infrastructure to enable everyday activities such as travel for school, work and leisure activities. Transport affects health and wellbeing through numerous pathways, resulting in a myriad of positive and negative impacts. Research shows correlation between the accessibility and availability of active and non-active transport modes for door-to-door journeys and physical and mental health condition. Moreover, cities designed for activity benefit from increased employment, safety and private investment. Planners, engineers and design professionals are increasingly aware of the relationship between transport and health. Yet despite the growing body of knowledge on health and transport, government and planning bodies do not seem to be aware of – or, perhaps, able to exploit – the opportunities that infrastructure projects offer to improve health outcomes and reduce health inequalities.

The outcome of this research is a design protocol that is flexible enough to utilise existing and available datasets, along with data from sensors and other connected devices, to provide evidence for decision-making around designing for mobility for health outcomes. The design protocol is supported with a framework that structures the relationship between mobility infrastructure and health outcomes. Both the design protocol and framework have been developed to be applicable for any planning, urban design or transport project aiming to improve the health and wellbeing of the community through mobility design.

This research is the outcome of a collaboration between Arup, BRE, University College London, and Perkins+Will as part of Arup’s Global Research Challenge 2015.

Two core ways in which mobility infrastructure can impact health are either directly (in various health impact areas) or by changing lifestyle or behaviours such as modal choice.

Health and mobility is much more than just active transportation (i.e. walking and cycling): designing for health for different users can often have conflicting outcomes.

The relationship between an individual’s health and the built environment is complex and this research only touches on one part of the built environment – mobility infrastructure. Soft measures such as policy and education programs alongside other aspects of the built environment (buildings, public spaces, etc.) also have an important role in health.

When designing for specific outcomes (in this case, health), it is important to also follow up after the design has been implemented to learn from results and evolve design principles and assumptions.

The research produced a design protocol and framework that is intended to supplement current planning and design processes such as visioning, master planning and strategy development to help ensure that opportunities to create environments that promote health through mobility infrastructure are considered alongside other key outcomes.

The important principles in the design protocol can be applied at any project scale. The protocol can be a useful checklist to ensure decision-makers consider the opportunities and potential impacts of the project holistically, at the earliest possible stage.

The design protocol and framework can be used to strengthen knowledge and skills in creating healthy environments through a structured and applicable format. The results will support city administrations as well as design consultants in the UK and beyond.

The outcomes of this research will help decision-makers deliver better mobility infrastructure in their city by facilitating the understanding of its impact on health, wellbeing and other related factors.

By finding ways to quantify public health and other benefits, project teams can compare health benefits to the capital investments required to deliver infrastructure and thereby provide evidence for informed decision making.