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Access to Public Transportation

Population within 1/2 mile of major public transportation stop


A strong and sustainable public transportation system supports safe, reliable, and affordable opportunities for walking, bicycling, and public transit. It helps reduce health inequities by providing more access to healthy food, jobs, health care, education, and other essential services. Active and public transportation promote health by enabling individuals to increase their level of physical activity, potentially reducing the risk of heart disease and obesity, improving mental health, and lowering blood pressure. Furthermore, the transition from automobile-focused transport to public and active transport offers environmental health benefits, including reductions in air pollution, greenhouse gases, and noise pollution, and leads to greater overall safety in transportation. Compared to public transit, a higher portion of trips by automobiles are associated with traffic accidents and increased air pollution, which are linked to increased rates of respiratory illness and heart disease.


Note to Health Departments in California: The California Department of Public Health’s Healthy Communities Data and Indicators (HCI) Project has acquired data for this indicator for the Bay Area from the San Francisco Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission and for Southern California from the Southern California Association of Governments. These data are available at http://www.cdph.ca.gov/ programs/Pages/HealthyCommunityIndicators.aspx. For instructions on how to download and filter data from the HCI, see Appendix D.

Areas Outside California

To analyze this indicator for jurisdictions outside of California, GIS software and two data sources are needed—a Census block GIS layer that has population denominators from the Census Bureau Census 2010 PL94-171 data; and a GIS shapefile of geocoded transit stops with a headway (i.e., wait time
) of 15 minutes or less. The latter can be obtained from local or regional transportation planning authorities. Using GIS software, a buffer of one-half mile is drawn around a public transit stop to identify the Census blocks. Census blocks are dissolved (another GIS technique) into Census tracts to improve accuracy. From this, an estimate of the population living near a public transportation stop is identified for that Census tract.

Example 1: Access to Public Transportation in the BARHII Region

Figure 37 shows walkable access to public transportation for the Bay Area. These data were downloaded and filtered from the HCI project. The red Census tracts show a low percentage of people living near a transit stop. Data for Santa Cruz County were not available at the time of publication. These areas should be considered for additional assessment and intervention to improve walkable access to public transportation.

Figure 37: Percentage of Residents within one-half Mile of a Public Transportation Stop, San Francisco Bay Area, 2010


Example 2: Access to Public Transportation for Zip Codes in San Mateo County

For this indicator, it is essential to know the rural verses urban geographic and population attributes, which do not always appear on maps. Without this knowledge, maps and the resulting analysis can be misinterpreted. For example, based on the map of this indicator for San Mateo County, it appears that the inhabitants of the central and coastal regions either live far from or must wait more than 15 minutes for public transportation. Following BARHII’s recommendations and based on this map, the central and coastal regions of San Mateo County should be prioritized to improve access to public transportation, but this is an erroneous interpretation. These regions 
of San Mateo County are sparsely populated rural areas where the public transportation needs
are substantially different from the urban parts of San Mateo County. For rural areas in general, further assessment is needed to determine if the public transportation is reliable, sustainable to rural transportation agencies, and can easily connect to larger regional public transportation networks.

Figure 38: Percentage of Residents within one-half Mile of Public Transportation, San Mateo County, 2010



Place Matters: Health Impact Assessment
Alameda County Public Health Department

Alameda County Public Health Department’s Place Matters initiative released a health impact assessment (HIA), Getting on Board for Health: A Health Impact Assessment of Bus Funding and Access, which examines the connections between bus access, mobility, and health. Over 15 non-profit organizations, community groups, and public agencies worked in partnership to produce the report. The group surveyed transit-dependent riders about how bus service cuts and fare increases affect affordability and quality of their trip experience, as well as their ability to get to essential destinations, all of which can affect health.

The report included recommendations to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to help inform the Regional Transportation Plan. This is the long-term transportation plan for how $289 billion will be spent throughout the nine-county Bay Area between 2013 and 2040 on transportation plans and projects, which was adopted as part of Plan Bay Area in July 2013.

The HIA includes primary data showing how access to public transit affects people’s ability to get to their job, healthcare appointments, school, and social activities, as well as how service cuts can directly affect safety, mental health, and social isolation. It also shows how fare increases affect personal income and can result in difficult choices between paying for transportation or food, medical care, and other necessities.

Sustainable Streets San Mateo
San Mateo County Health System

The San Mateo County Health System has worked closely with the City of San Mateo to develop the City’s Sustainable Streets Plan—a plan that incorporates complete streets and green streets concepts for a walkable, bikeable, transit-accessible community with environmentally friendly landscaping features. Using demographic and crash data, the health system provided recommendations for targeted infrastructure and policy improvements to encourage active transportation and transit use. Currently, a large housing development is being constructed at Bay Meadows, where over 1,000 new housing units with 10% affordable- to moderate-income families will be located in a bikeable, transit-adjacent neighborhood.

The development adheres to the recommendations of the Sustainable Streets Plan and will connect families to local and regional transit an easy walking or biking distance away. Extensive walking and biking facilities, such as separated bike paths and a walking trail, will make this trip to public transit appealing and safe. Additional information on sustainable streets San Mateo can be found at http://www.sustainablestreetssanmateo.com.


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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Environmental Health. 2008. CDC Recommendations for Improving Health through Transportation Policy. http://www.cdc.gov/transportation/. Accessed October 2014.

Ewing R, Cervero R. 2010. Travel and the Built Environment: A Meta-analysis. Journal of the American Planning Association 76(3):265-294.

Frank LD, Andresen M, Schmid T. 2004. Obesity Relationships with Community Design, Physical Activity, and Time Spent in Cars. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 27(2):87-96.