Infrastructure and our everyday transport choices – June 2017
Enabling people to walk, cycle and make greater use of public transport has benefits for health and the environment. But what do we know about the effectiveness of changing the way we travel by improving the places we live in?
- CEDAR reviews and studies
- Town-wide initiatives to promote cycling
- High quality routes encourage walking and cycling
- A new transport system
- Implications for policy
- References and resources
Brief in brief
- A large part of our weekly recommended amount of physical activity can be achieved through active commuting.
- There are many ways to intervene to change travel behaviours – including cycling initiatives, new ‘active’ routes, and wider changes that include public transport as well as infrastructure for active travel.
- Changes in behaviour can often take time to happen, but all these initiatives have shown some success.
- Travel behaviour is complex, so it is unlikely that small scale environmental changes alone will result in substantial increases in walking and cycling – systemic change is required across a number of sectors.
CEDAR reviews and studies
There are many ways to intervene to change travel behaviours. As well as our evidence reviews, at CEDAR we have evaluated three interventions in this area: cycling initiatives, new routes for walking and cycling, and a new transport system that supports walking, cycling and public transport
Town-wide initiatives to promote cycling
Using data from the English Census, we assessed the impact of 18 town-wide cycling initiatives (Cycling Demonstration Towns and Cycling Cities and Towns).
We compared areas that received funding for their initiatives with those that didn’t. All towns used a mixture of capital investment (e.g. cycle lanes) and revenue investment (e.g. cycle training), tailored to each town. We found:
- Among 1.3 million commuters in the 18 intervention towns, the proportion of adults who cycled to work rose from 5.8% in 2001 to 6.8% in 2011.
- Walking to work also increased significantly compared with comparison towns, while driving to work decreased and public transport use was unchanged.
- These effects were observed across all levels of area deprivation.
- There was evidence of larger effects in towns which placed greater emphasis on workplace cycling initiatives.
High quality routes encourage walking and cycling
The iConnect study used self-reported data on walking, cycling and physical activity to assess the impact of new, high-quality, traffic-free cycling and walking routes in Cardiff, Kenilworth and Southampton.
1700 residents who lived within 5km of the new routes were surveyed before and after the opening of the infrastructure in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
Evaluation after one year indicated no effect, suggesting more time might be needed to see any changes. But after two years, we found on average across all sites:
- People living near to the new routes increased their total levels of physical activity, compared to those living further away.
- There was no evidence that people taking up more walking or cycling over time compensated by reducing other physical activity.
- The new routes not only encouraged people to take up walking but also encouraged those people who were already walking to do more.
Interviews highlighted a range of factors that might explain patterns of use of the new routes, including their visibility, design and scale, as well as the contrast they presented with existing infrastructure.
A new transport system
A new state-of-the-art guided busway was opened in Cambridgeshire in 2011. We took the opportunity to assess its impact on travel in Cambridge.
Whether or not the busway proved to be a supportive environment for being active on the commute varied for different individuals. For example, people’s existing travel choices affected how they viewed and responded to new infrastructure.
Nevertheless, overall we found:
- Those who lived closer to the busway were more likely to increase their walking or cycling time on the commute, even if this was only for part of the journey. They were also more likely to report a reduction in the share of trips made by car.
- As with iConnect, we found no evidence of corresponding reductions in recreational activity.
- Commuters who included walking and cycling as part of their journeys through the use of offsite car parks or park-and-ride sites reported an average of 12 minutes of walking or 17 minutes of cycling to and from work per day.
- On average, more than half of the weekly recommended amount of physical activity recommended was achieved through the commute alone, even among those who lived a long way from work.
Implications for policy
- Infrastructure to support active travel is an important part of a strategy for achieving physical activity and health gain in the population.
- Public transport and active travel can coexist rather than compete in a sustainable, health-promoting transport system.
- Active travel can be incorporated into commuting irrespective of the total length of the journey. Supporting these ‘mixed mode’ journeys – for
example, via park-and-ride sites or bicycle parking at train stations – is an underused strategy.
- Some changes, e.g. improving pedestrian routes, may promote walking but not reduce car trips. Others, e.g. changing parking provision, may be more effective in reducing car trips. This is important when considering impacts on congestion and air quality.
- Travel behaviour is complex, so it is unlikely that small scale environmental changes alone will result in substantial increases in walking and cycling.
- It does not necessarily follow that individual solutions have to be complex, as long as they are part of wider and concerted action.
- A comprehensive public health strategy to promote physical activity through active travel would need to address many wider factors such as housing, planning and employment policy.
References and resources
- Walking & Cycling for Transport – How promoting active travel can help meet the physical activity challenge, CEDAR Evidence Brief March 2013
- Goodman et al. Effectiveness and equity impacts of town-wide cycling initiatives in England: A longitudinal, controlled natural experimental study. Soc Sci Med, 2013
- The iConnect Study: www.cedar.iph.cam.ac.uk/research/directory/iconnect/
- Ogilvie et al. An applied ecological framework for evaluating infrastructure to promote walking and cycling: the iConnect study. Am J Public Health. 2011
- Goodman et al. New walking and cycling routes and increased physical activity: one- and 2-year findings from the UK iConnect Study. Am J Public Health. 2014
- Sahlqvist et al. Change in active travel and changes in recreational and total physical activity in adults: longitudinal findings from the iConnect study. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2013
- Panter et al. Can environmental improvement change the population distribution of walking? J Epidemiol Community Health. 2017
- Sahlqvist et al. Mechanisms underpinning use of new walking and cycling infrastructure in different contexts: mixed-method analysis. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2015.
- Fit for Life – Independent research into the public health benefits of new walking and cycling routes, Sustrans, 2017
Commuting and Health in Cambridge (the Busway study)
- The Commuting and Health in Cambridge Study: www.cedar.iph.cam.ac.uk/research/directory/cahic/
- Health impacts of the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway: a natural experimental study. Public Health Res 2016
- Panter et al. Impact of New Transport Infrastructure on Walking, Cycling, and Physical Activity. Am J Prev Med. 2016
- Heinen et al. Changes in mode of travel to work: a natural experimental study of new transport infrastructure. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2015
- Panter et al. Incorporating walking or cycling into car journeys to and from work: The role of individual, workplace and environmental characteristics. Prev Med. 2013
Other research references
- Giles-Corti & Donovan. The relative influence of individual, social and physical environment determinants of physical activity. Soc Sci Med. 2002.
- Macmillan et al. The Societal Costs and Benefits of Commuter Bicycling: Simulating the Effects of Specific Policies Using System Dynamics Modeling. Environ Health Perspect, 2014
- Panter & Ogilvie. Cycling and Diabetes Prevention: Practice-Based Evidence for Public Health Action. PLoS Med. 2016
- Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy, Department for Health, 2017
Please cite this Evidence Brief as: UKCRC Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR), Evidence Brief 15 – Changing the way we travel – Infrastructure and our everyday transport choices – June 2017. www.cedar.iph.cam.ac.uk/resources/evidence/eb-15-changing-travel