UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Improving public health through active transportation : understanding the influence of the built environment on decisions to travel by bicycle Winters, Meghan Lesley


Urban transportation is a public and environmental health issue. In North America, where urban environments have been shown to influence transportation decisions and physical activity, over two-thirds of adults are inactive. Consequently, there is growing interest in promoting active transportation. Cycling in particular offers one of the greatest opportunities for change. This dissertation aimed to understand how to design cities to support cycling, to improve public health through increased active transportation. It applied quantitative and qualitative methods to investigate the link between cycling and the built environment. The five studies that comprise this dissertation use data from the Cycling in Cities survey, which captured the opinions and travel behaviours of 2,149 current and potential cyclists across Metro Vancouver. The first study analyzed preferences for 16 types of cycling infrastructure, noting a clear desire for off-street and separated facilities, especially among women, people with children, and occasional and potential cyclists. The second study evaluated the relative importance of 73 potential motivators and deterrents. Environmental and engineering factors carried the strongest influence; specifically aspects related to scenery, topography, facility design, weather, and safety issues. The third and fourth studies mapped travel data to determine associations with measures of the built environment. The route choice analysis found that the majority of trips were less than 10% longer than the shortest distance route, and that bicycle trips detoured toward bicycle facilities and away from major roads, whereas car trips detoured toward highways and arterials. The mode choice analysis (bicycle versus car) made explicit consideration of the built environment around trip origin, destination and en route. Multi-level logistic modeling, adjusted for demographics and trip distance, showed significant associations with topography, cycling facilities, the road network and land use. The fifth study integrated these results with focus group findings to derive an evidence-based “bikeability” measure. The utility of the index was demonstrated through its application as a planning tool. Taken collectively, these studies contribute to both data and methodological gaps in prior health, planning, and transportation research. This dissertation provides evidence on environments that support cycling and presents a tool to guide strategies to improve conditions.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International