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New active transport research

Our September webinar took an in-depth look at some recent research into travel behaviour change.

Anthony Walsh shared his research on Commuter Choices, a social cognitive approach to changing commuting behaviour for increased physical activity. Dr Samia Sharmin shared her research on addressing the impact of built environment on children's independent mobility.

Both presentation were very in-depth and I wont try covering everything. If you want to see the webinar please send an email to and we will provide a link to our webinars to current PedBikeTrans members.

Anthony Walsh who is an associate lecturer at the University of the Sunshine Coast. He shared on his Doctoral research from the School of Public Health and Social Work at QUT. The thesis is published here if you want to read further. The research was undertaken in 2018 and examined how behaviour change programs using social support influenced the uptake of active commuting in five workplaces in Brisbane.

Some things that stood out for me from Anthony's research are discussed below.

The research showed the importance of the health as a motivator for active travel. Many participants knew they were not getting enough excercise, but complained about insufficient time for excersise. SInce more than half the participant lived over 10km from work, their commute took a lot of the time from their day. By choosing active travel for part of their commute, or for some days of their commute, the participants significantly increased their physical activity levels without a large increase in their average commute time..

The research showed that the behaviour change program using social support was effecive in supporting behaviour change. However the research did not include a review of long-term outcomes of the program. The Love to Ride program we heard from in a previous webinar provides some useful long-term data on how effective that behaviour change program has been in getting long-term behaviour change.

Typical measures of active travel participation (like the census) often measure the main mode of travel, or ignore the 'walking' mode for public transport trips. This can miss how active travel may form part of commute trips (people choose to walk longer distances to/from public transport or parking), or dont recognise occasional active travel during the week.

Dr Samia Sharmin spoke on her doctoral thesis on the impact of the built environment on children's independent mobility. Her research paper is published by QUT here so feel free to read further. Being a father I know the importance to the emotional development of children of giving them freedom.

Samia's research was really interesting in that it studied how different built-environment factors influence children's independent travel choices. Some of the results seem quite counter-intuitive. However when I think of how my children make travel choices, it makes more sense. Two that stuck out for me are discussed below.

Geographic and topological distance:. when walking, adults tend to make routing decisions based on the geographic distance - they may make multiple turns on their route to find the shortest path from A to B. Children on the other hand lack the cognative ability to create mind-maps that allow them to find the shortest distance route. Istead their choice is based on visual perception of distance. So they tend to minimise the number of turns they make as they perceive this to increase the 'distance' walked as they accumulate 'distance' based on the number of changes of direction, not the geographic distance travelled. That seems crazy but it explains why my children used to insist that their way of walking to school was shorter than mine, despite being equidistant. My route had two changes in direction, while theirs only had one.

Vibrant streets and active shop fronts: Adults tend to choose routes that have activity as they are engaging and make it easy to forget the distance you walk. Children however tend to prefer avoiding these routes as the high level of activity increases their anxiety and concern for their safety.

These and other factors show how active transport planners need to know their target market, and plan the network accordingly. When planning walking routes for children it is vital that we understand how their travel choices are sometimes very different to adults' choices due to cognitive and emotional differences.


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