Transportation and health are two sectors that merit immediate attention in Northwest Indiana. Both saw the quality of life decline, as reported in the 2012 Quality of Life Indicators Report released Tuesday by One Region.
The report singled out transportation and health as the two areas where the quality of life has gotten worse in recent years.
The key to transportation improvement is obvious -- address the decline in public transportation. The lack of political will to address funding for public transportation in Lake County led to the shutdown of fixed-route bus service in Hammond this year. The Regional Bus Authority, which was created to foster the creation of a regional bus system, is withering for lack of local funding.
Addressing this problem requires the ability to get diverse groups to work with each other. Designing and funding a truly functional transit system would not only improve the quality of life for riders but also would show businesses that Northwest Indiana is committed to providing the means to get prospective employees to the workplace.
On the health front, the statistics are dismal. By a number of measures, Northwest Indiana residents are less healthy than the rest of the state.
That includes not only behaviors -- 27 percent of region adults were smokers, and 17 percent were excessive drinkers -- but also access. Of Northwest Indiana residents under age 65 between 2010 and 2012, 15 percent were uninsured.
Improving health in the region requires extensive effort on multiple fronts -- fighting drug abuse, improving access to health care, getting more people to exercise and to improve their diets.
That's not as easy as it might seem. Improving diets requires access to affordable fresh produce -- a problem exacerbated by both "food deserts," where supply is inadequate in Northwest Indiana, and by the lack of a functional public transportation system. Community gardens and other efforts to provide affordable, fresh produce must be encouraged.
Drug abuse prevention efforts must be expanded and continually monitored for effectiveness. Realizing that this is a high-intensity drug trafficking area helps put an emphasis on drug interdiction efforts, along with treatment options, but successful prevention efforts is where it all begins.
Many of the quality of life indicators in the report, issued every four years, showed little or no change since 2008. But health and transportation, where the quality of life declined, deserve extra attention now.