RESEARCH SUMMARY DETAIL

Safety and Accessibility Important for Neighborhood Walking

Author's Title: The Relationship of Neighborhood Built Environment Features and Adult Parents’ Walking
Author(s) Name: Mariela Alfonzo, Marlon G. Boarnet, Kristen Day, Tracy McMillan, and Craig L. Anderson
Year of Publication: 2008
Search Related Keywords: Anthropometrics/Functional Requirements/Accessibility  Barrier Free   Health Effects  Neighborhood  Outdoor Space  Pedestrian Environment  Personal/Individual Needs and Factors  Physical  Residential  Safety and Security  Sustainable Design 

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Design Issue
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This study examined the relationship between built environment characteristics (i.e., accessibility, comfort, safety, and pleasurability) and neighborhood walking among adults.


  • Physical activity is important to health promotion and obesity prevention (US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, 2006). Additional opportunities for regular physical activity are needed.
  • It is important to understand the physical characteristics of the built environment that create perceptions of accessibility, safety, comfort, and pleasurability to increase walking among adults.
  • Some studies have established correlations between built environment features and walking/cycling rates, but few have established causality. Previous research has failed to control for certain sociodemographic factors (e.g., race/ethnicity, age) that may be influence walking behaviors, thus impacting the reliability of the findings (Saelens et al., 2003).
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Design Criteria
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Author Identified:
  • Prioritize the incorporation of design features related to accessibility (e.g., mixed use residential development, sidewalk access, public spaces) and safety (e.g., street-facing windows, street lighting, fewer abandoned buildings) into neighborhoods to support walking.
  • Recognize that a single design characteristic may not influence individuals’ walking decisions (e.g., windows facing the street), but a combination of related design characteristics (e.g., windows facing the street and the absence of abandoned buildings and graffiti) may have an impact.
  • Recognize that neighborhood design audit instruments may contribute to an understanding of what influences individuals' walking decisions by providing first-hand observations of micro-scale factors (e.g., graffiti, street lighting).

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Key Concepts
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  • Design features in neighborhoods associated with accessibility (i.e., mixed-use residential neighborhoods, multiple sidewalks, and public spaces) and perceived safety (e.g., street-facing windows, street lighting, fewer abandoned buildings) were both associated with higher levels of adult walking in neighborhoods.  Design features supporting comfort and pleasure were not significantly influential.
  • Urban design features associated with safety were associated with increased recreational walking (e.g., walking a dog, leisure or exercise) and those supporting both accessibility and safety were associated with more destination walking (e.g., walking to a park, playground, or restaurant).
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Research Method
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  • data was collected from the California SR2S (Safe Routes To School) building construction program, a program that offered funding for construction projects close to schools to improve pedestrian/cyclist safety. Neighborhoods (11; defined as the total blocks contained within ¼ mile of SR2S-participating primary schools) ranged broadly in type, location, and demographics (e.g., income, density)
  • subjects (1,297; response rate 33.2%) were parents of children who attended schools participating in the SR2S program within the 11 neighborhoods. subjects completed anonymous surveys (brought home by their children from school) about the number of walks (of 10 or more minutes) taken in the previous week, the purpose of each trip (e.g., walking the dog, walking to a store/restaurant), the location of the walk (i.e., in/outside of neighborhood), and the total amount of time spent walking. subjects marked the location of their home on a map.
  • An urban design audit tool was used to analyze characteristics of the built environment for each neighborhood. Design features related to accessibility (e.g., presence of sidewalks, public spaces), comfort (e.g., presence of sidewalks/bike lanes, block length), perceived safety from crime (e.g., number of homes street-facing windows, absence of abandoned buildings), and pleasurability (e.g., presence of trees, street furniture) were examined. Pairs of researchers (i.e., principle investigators and graduate and undergraduate students) surveyed each neighborhood to observe and log characteristics.
  • descriptive statistics and multiple regression analysis were used to analyze the data.
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Limitations
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  • The study did not account for the multi-faceted qualities of the design concepts of accessibility, safety, comfort, and pleasurability.
  • The study measured total number of walks as those 10 minutes or longer, but did not account for subjects who took multiple short walks or fewer long walks.
  • Design concept measures were limited to the data collected from the California SR2S program, which did not thoroughly represent the pleasurability variable.
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Commentary
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A review of literature was conducted on walking and the built environment. Tables of results were included. Full descriptions of data collection methods are provided in Boarnet et al., (2005, 2006). Future research using a model to examine the impact of multiple built environment factors and expanding pleasurability measurements (e.g., architectural character, presence of views) was recommended.



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Adapted From
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Author(s): Mariela Alfonzo, Department of Urban Affairs and Planning, Virginia Polytechnic University, Alexandria; Marlon G. Boarnet and Kristen Day, Department of Planning, Policy, and Design, University of California, Irvine; Tracy McMillan, PPH Partners, Flagstaff, Arizona; and Craig L. Anderson, Center for Trauma and Injury Prevention Research, University of California
Article Title: The Relationship of Neighborhood Built Environment Features and Adult Parents’ Walking
Publisher: Taylor and Francis Ltd.
Publication: Journal of Urban Design
Publication Type: Refereed Journal
Date of Publication: 2008
Funder/Sponsor: California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), University of California Transportation Center, U.S. and California Departments of Transportation
ISSN: 1357-4809
Volume: 13
Issue: 1
Pages: 29-51