By Alfredo Santana
LOS ANGELES — Transportation projects pitched to mitigate air pollution and ease the movement of people and goods along the Long Beach (710) Freeway corridor between Long Beach and East Los Angeles cannot direct health clinics how to develop programs to treat high levels of asthma and cardiovascular disease.
However, the evaluation tools recently approved to vet a list of more than 200 investment projects along the 19-mile corridor contain safeguards to ensure they carry health benefits to local communities by implementing programs such as the zero emission trucks and a network of bike lanes.
That is the conclusion reached by moderators, project members and some participants at the monthly Community Leadership Committee gathering sponsored by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority seeking to dispel concerns about sparse proposals to directly address respiratory, heart and blood pressure cases.
“Health is a part of both the guiding and goal principles driving these projects,” said Here LA co-founder and meeting facilitator Shannon Davis. “For this exercise, health and transportation roadways are linked.”
Co-facilitator Amber Hawkes said the goals to slash exhaust emissions can be increased with criteria to ensure health benefits, in response to participants’ feedback and data from studies conducted from 2011 to 2021 that consistently set air pollution rates in neighborhoods near the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles higher than state average.
Aware the literature and data do not encompass everything, Hawkes said health context has been added with input from in-person and virtual meetings conducted by the Community Leadership Committee and other working groups.
They attest to high asthma rates, lack of tree maintenance, inequitable access to parks, school locations, recreational facilities and community spaces near freeways and busy roads.
She referred to the Center for Disease Control’s social determinants of health to help understand outcomes that link the available community resources to social and economic factors.
The CDC’s social determinants of health are comprised of education access and quality, economic stability, social and community context, neighborhood and built environment, and health care access and quality.
“A project team may address new categories of concern if flags [on projects] don’t address additional issues,” Hawkes said.
Among the health disparities connected to transportation issues are busy roads creating high pollution, levels of physical activity related to individual’s cardiovascular, diabetes and others diseases, and traffic accidents.
According to the CDC, the latter is a leading cause of injury and death “disproportionally involving children, seniors, and the unhoused in communities of color and low-resource neighborhoods” applicable to the corridor.
West Long Beach resident Marlene Sanchez said nobody from an organization or university has reached out to conduct a research study in her neighborhood and underscored the cited work may be outdated.
“If they run studies, they don’t do them in West Long Beach on the health impact on residents. I’ve never seen them doing those studies,” Sanchez said.
Hawkes answered that for the investment program the “documents part of research are used to paint the full picture of what happens in the corridor, and may not reflect the current conditions.”
Thus, better health outcomes would require discussion of community results and desirable wellbeing levels with clear goals resulting from the proposed projects, she said.
Measurable outcomes for projects would include exposure to pollutants that cause chronic disease rates of asthma, high blood pressure and cancer, conditions for physical activity, roadway safety, exposure to extreme heat and access to health care, healthy food and opportunities.
Ideally, those health benefits are components of the evaluation criteria ready to gauge projects on air quality, community and health impact, safety, environment and opportunity and prosperity.
The criteria include tools to indicate a project’s positive or negative effect on diesel emissions and smaller particles known as PM2.5, mode shifts, park access, traffic safety, cooling and heat reduction, access to facilities, traffic diversion, potential for new hot spots and a rise on car use.
So is it possible to measure a project’s health benefits or its negative impact directly?
Hawkes said the evaluation criterion is customized “to measure the outcomes that support our desired [health-related] community results. This is why we have used peer review research [approved by the CDC and World Health Organization] to link health outcomes to broader social, environmental and economic factors.”
“Our investment plan is a collection of potential projects and programs, most of which are a long way off from the level of project detail needed for a [health impact assessment],” she added.
Also, projects that make it toward implementation will be subject to environmental review and more scrutiny as part of individual screenings.
Committee member Sinetta Farley from East Compton/Rancho Dominguez asked how the MTA collected medical data to determine asthma rates and other conditions.
Team project member Aryeh Cohen said the agency gets reports on hospitalization figures.
“We are trying to figure out, based on programs proposed, how those can change travel patterns. And introduce ways to protect people from that pollution” with help obtained through the research posted in the project’s website, Cohen said.
In a related matter, members of the Zero Emissions Truck group announced they would leverage the $50 million assigned to support infrastructure for clean tractor trailers to raise a minimum of $200 million.
The working group also weighed in on staff recommendations to request the MTA’s Board of Directors a $3 million allocation to the nonprofit Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator to accelerate building a charging station for trucks in Wilmington, and to find a utility to run it by year’s end.
Estimated to cost $15 million, plans to erect the electric station include using one of two parcels of land owned by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
The corridor’s first fully charging hub would be located a few blocks north of the port of Long Beach near the intersection of Alameda and East Anaheim streets, and would restrict the fueling of passenger vehicles.