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Open Access Research

Shoe leather epidemiology: active travel and transport infrastructure in the urban landscape

David Ogilvie1*, Richard Mitchell2, Nanette Mutrie3, Mark Petticrew4 and Stephen Platt5

Author Affiliations

1 Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit and Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR), Cambridge, UK

2 Section of Public Health and Health Policy, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK

3 Department of Sport, Culture and the Arts, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK

4 London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK

5 Centre for Population Health Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2010, 7:43  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-7-43

Published: 11 May 2010

Abstract

Background

Building new transport infrastructure could help to promote changes in patterns of mobility, physical activity, and other determinants of population health such as economic development. However, local residents may not share planners' goals or assumptions about the benefits of such interventions. A particularly contentious example is the construction of major roads close to deprived residential areas. We report the qualitative findings of the baseline phase of a longitudinal mixed-method study of a new urban section of the M74 motorway in Glasgow, Scotland, that aims to combine quantitative epidemiological and spatial data with qualitative interview data from local residents.

Methods

We interviewed 12 residents purposively sampled from a larger study cohort of 1322 to include men and women, different age groups, and people with and without cars, all living within 400 metres of the proposed route of the new motorway. We elicited their views and experiences of the local urban environment and the likely impact of the new motorway using a topic guide based on seven key environmental constructs (aesthetics, green space, convenience of routes, access to amenities, traffic, road danger and personal danger) reflecting an overall ecological model of walking and cycling.

Results

Traffic was widely perceived to be heavy despite a low local level of car ownership. Few people cycled, and cycling on the roads was widely perceived to be dangerous for both adults and children. Views about the likely impacts of the new motorway on traffic congestion, pollution and the pleasantness of the local environment were polarised. A new motorway has potential to cause inequitable psychological or physical severance of routes to local amenities, and people may not necessarily use local walking routes or destinations such as parks and shops if these are considered undesirable, unsafe or 'not for us'. Public transport may have the potential to promote or discourage active travel in different socioeconomic contexts.

Conclusions

Altering the urban landscape may influence walking and cycling in ways that vary between individuals, may be inequitable, and may not be predictable from quantitative data alone. A more applied ecological behavioural model may be required to capture these effects.