The purpose of the screening phase is to decide whether a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) is feasible, timely and would add value to the decision-making process of the project.
In collaboration with the City of Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC) worked with numerous stakeholders to organize the development of the Greenway. The Greenway would run the 2.2-mile length of Spring Garden in downtown Philadelphia, connecting the Delaware River Trail and the Schuylkill River Trail. It would also be an important component of the East Coast Greenway. Although Spring Garden has an existing bike path, the proposed Greenway would feature a “linear park, a green street, and a high-quality walking and biking trail separate from traffic lanes,” as well as an improved stormwater runoff management system. More information on the plan can be found at the Spring Garden Street Greenway website.
Timing and HIA rationale
HIAs are typically conducted after a plan, policy or project has been proposed and before the decision to adopt it or not has been made. In this case, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC) had secured planning funding for the Greenway and was in the process of deciding between design alternatives when our team began the HIA process. After a discussion with Jeff Knowles, Project Manager at PEC, we decided that an HIA would be most effective if it targeted the next phase of decision-making, in which funders and city council members were approached for financial and political support for implementation of the Greenway. We specifically expect the HIA to contribute value to the decision-making process in the following ways:
- Adding health considerations to impending conversations about funding and feasibility. One of the barriers to implementation funding and city approval is that Spring Garden already has a bike lane and a Greenway seems redundant. An HIA would reframe the conversation, shifting it from one about the physical environment to one about health impacts.
- Assessing the health impacts of factors that are not typically related to health. There is a clear link between the proposed project and many of the potential health impacts including increased physical activity and safety. However, the proposed Greenway incorporates other changes that have not-so-obvious impacts on health. An HIA would investigate the health impact of broad factors, like economic development and social capital, and specific factors, like changes in lane width.
- Including information on vulnerable populations. Census and other data shows that many low-income and racially diverse communities reside along the Spring Garden corridor. An HIA would investigate the proposed Greenway’s potential for addressing or exacerbating numerous health disparities.
An important part of the screening process is identifying and reaching out to stakeholders. During the design of the project, PEC did a thorough job engaging local residents, businesses and organizations; including their voice in the decision-making process for the final project plan. Stakeholders include:
- Community members
- Local organizations
- Business leaders
- School administrators