UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Public transit use as a catalyst for an active lifestyle : mechanisms, predispositions and hindrances Lachapelle, Ugo


In this thesis, I use the concept of a catalyst to analyze the relationships between transit use and measures of physical activity in neighborhoods with contrasting walkability and income levels. These analyses are preceded by an exploration of the long-term housing location preferences that enable people to live near transit, and ultimately to choose public transit. Three separate analyses using the Neighborhood Quality of Life Study (NQLS, 2002-2005; n=2199), provided by collaborators, form the core chapters of this thesis. The NQLS is a cross-sectional, matched community observational study of adults randomly sampled across 32 neighborhoods in Metro Seattle, WA and Baltimore, MD to compare behaviors of residents. Neighborhoods either had high or low median income and high or low walkability (4 neighborhood of each types in each cities). Causal mechanisms are explored, but cross-sectional data prevents concluding on causal relationships. In the first manuscript, the choice to use transit is analyzed in the context of long-term housing decisions. Some respondents wanting to locate near transit were not able to. Increasing housing opportunities near transit could improve the viability of using public transit, and support its potential health benefits. For public transportation to be considered a catalyst for physical activity, it must have a positive association independent of neighborhood walkability, car availability, and enjoyment of moderate physical activity. These issues are confirmed in the second manuscript. Transit commuters’ higher frequencies of utilitarian walking to destinations near the home and workplace is presented as a potential explanation for higher levels of physical activity. Additionally, active transportation time should not displace time used for leisure physical activity, and this relationship should hold whether transit users have access to an automobile (choice riders) or not (transit-dependent riders). This is confirmed in the third manuscript. In light of the active lifestyle benefits of public transit use, public health agencies may promote transit use through social marketing, and promote transit infrastructure development to policy-makers. Urban planners and transit agencies should consider the ability of households to locate near transit, and the lifestyle burden of transit-dependent riders, in order to promote healthier, inclusive and sustainable cities.

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