Q & A: Alumna brings public health perspective to transportation safety

Angie Byrne discusses her role at the U.S. Department of Transportation

Angie Byrne smiling wearing a brown turtleneck sweater.

Angie Byrne, CPH alumna and program analyst at the U.S. Department of Transportation Volpe National Transportation Systems Center.

Meet CPH alumna Angie Byrne, MPH ’06, who uses her public health knowledge and passion for transportation safety to work toward making our communities safer for all.

Byrne shared the connections she sees between the two disciplines and her advice for current students.

What is your role at the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) Volpe National Transportation Systems Center?

I serve as a program analyst in the Program Development and Capacity Building Division. In my role I manage two portfolios of projects, one with the Federal Highway Administration and one with the Federal Rail Administration. In addition to my portfolio management roles, I serve as a safety and grant technical resource for several safety and grant programs at the Volpe Center, the most notable of which are the Safe Streets and Roads for All grant program and the National Roadway Safety Strategy.

What drew you to work in traffic and transportation safety?

When I was in high school in my small hometown of Van Wert, Ohio, I lost a few of my classmates to traffic crashes. The prevailing attitude in each of those situations was that they were unpreventable and unavoidable tragedies — and that did not sit well with me. My junior year I started a Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) chapter at my high school and became active in issues such as graduated driver licensing for young drivers and lowering the per se (blood alcohol) limit for impaired driving from .10 BAC to .08. This interest in traffic safety soon grew into a passion that began shaping my educational and professional interests and goals.

How does your experience in public health inform the way you approach your role at USDOT?

Transportation has traditionally been a very siloed profession that has operated in spaces of engineering, enforcement, education and emergency medical services with little interaction between each other or with those who are most impacted by decisions. Applying public health approaches of working across disciplines, being creative and innovative in trying new approaches, building community and professional capacity, and adapting as needed are all public health skills I have been bringing to my work in USDOT. 

Approaching problems in a more systems-level manner has also critically informed how I approach my work and enabled me to build bridges between transportation and public health and, hopefully, make our communities safer to live, work and play. 

What about your work have you been most proud of?

There are two projects I have been involved with over the past two years that I have been exceptionally proud to be a part of. The first was playing a role in drafting the National Roadway Safety Strategy, which sets the national goal of achieving zero traffic fatalities and serious injuries. This was a large step forward to shifting how we address transportation safety in this country as well as building in political support for achieving the goal of zero.

The other project is being part of the team that has stood up the Safe Streets and Roads for All grant program that was part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. This $5 billion federal grant program goes directly to communities to create and implement plans to achieve zero traffic fatalities and serious injuries at a local level. While getting to zero is not something that is going to happen overnight, I am optimistic these two initiatives will have a significant impact in both moving to a systems level approach to improving safety and making our communities and roads safer. 

Is there anything you wish people outside transportation safety knew about the field?

Transportation is a significant public health issue, and the two topics are not connected as much as they need to be. Over 40,000 people a year die in traffic crashes, vehicle emissions are one of the highest sources of air and noise pollution, and transportation is one of the biggest barriers to access to health care. Furthermore, there are a number of inequities created by transportation such as building highways through communities and traffic enforcement.

There is a need and plenty of opportunities for public health practitioners to work in or collaborate with transportation.

What advice do you have for current public health students?

When considering your path forward, think about some of the root causes of the issue that you are trying to address and reflect on where you can have some of the biggest impacts in addressing those challenges. It might not be where or how you expected it to be.

If it is not in an area that has traditionally been associated with public health practitioners, your insight and approaches will likely be appreciated and welcome.

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About The Ohio State University College of Public Health

The Ohio State University College of Public Health is a leader in educating students, creating new knowledge through research, and improving the livelihoods and well-being of people in Ohio and beyond. The College's divisions include biostatistics, environmental health sciences, epidemiology, health behavior and health promotion, and health services management and policy. It is ranked 29th among all colleges and programs of public health in the nation, and first in Ohio, by U.S. News and World Report. Its specialty programs are also considered among the best in the country. The MHA program is ranked 8th, the biostatistics specialty is ranked 22nd, the epidemiology specialty is ranked 25th and the health policy and management specialty is ranked 17th.