Hundreds of Middle Tennesseans will soon be asked to wear GPS monitors to record their travel,
and accelerometers to measure physical activity, as part of a unique
study of connections between transportation and health, officials said.
The million-dollar study of 10 counties will inform decisions regarding an estimated $6 billion in transportation funds overseen by the Nashville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, Executive Director Michael Skipper said.
MPO last week selected firms to carry out the research, which will
begin with a survey of the daily travel and commuting patterns of 6,000
residents living everywhere from urban apartments to rural homes, followed by a more comprehensive and tech-savvy look at the health and activity levels of 600 people wearing monitors.
It will be the first MPO data that connect transportation and physical activity, Skipper said.
rarely been a study that tries to integrate that all into one," he
said. "This will inform our analysis of future deficiencies in the
The research is unique in the nation.
Transportation planners do not typically gather health data as part of
research, said Jean Wolf, president of GeoStats, a firm selected by the
Only the Atlanta Regional Council, which worked with GeoStats
in 2001, used such an approach from a transportation standpoint, Wolf
and Skipper said. Health groups more often put GPS and accelerometers to
use, Wolf said, citing as examples studies of children with asthma and
blind military veterans.
The monitors will be worn on the waist,
either by belt or clip-on, for four consecutive days. Accelerometers are
to be worn at all times except while sleeping (and showering; they're
not waterproof), and the GPS monitors are for all travel outside the home.
benefit of the approach, Wolf said, is being able to learn how land
development and the "built environment," such as sidewalks, influence
health. The study may also reveal information about topics as diverse as
cul-de-sacs in subdivisions, streetscape projects, and the impact of
trees and shade on pedestrians.
'A regional study'
The Nashville area "has a lot of variety in the urban core and rural
areas," Wolf said. "It's no longer just a city study. It truly is a
In Atlanta, a new household
travel study is nearing completion, but cost concerns left physical
activity measurements out of it, said Claudette Dillard, principal
planner in the transportation division of the Atlanta Regional
She said the city's 2001 study taught planners about connections between housing density and physical activity.
But Dillard said the data did not always play a prominent role in transportation decisions.
"Here, at least," she said, "people favor road projects more than they do" other modes of transportation.