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Does a Resident’s Choice of Living Location Influence Neighborhood Effects on Walking as a Mode of Transportation?

A woman wearing pink shoes walking through a parking garage

May 12, 2020

Walking as a means of transportation, commonly referred to as transport walking, is a growing field of study. There is growing interest in transport walking due to its potential to increase physical activity and to reduce reliance on motorized vehicles. Many environmental factors and personal factors that could influence transport walking have been identified. Critical literature reviews have noted the importance of self-selection bias: preferences for neighborhood choices or travel activities could partially determine residential location decisions and subsequently affect the propensity to walk. In such scenario, it is unclear whether the observed walking behaviors are attributable to the residential preferences, the neighborhood environment, or a combination of both. Additionally, other personal factors may also be associated with transport walking, such as: desire to have exercise, travel time and financial cost, as well as perceptions of distance to destinations, and safety along walking route. Therefore, it is critical to understand the associations between neighborhood environment and transport walking by disentangling the effects of multiple personal factors from neighborhood effects. 

New research, led by Jingjing Li, PhD, MS, postdoctoral research fellow at Urban Health Collaborative, at Dornsife School of Public Health at Drexel, along with coauthors, examined the associations between neighborhood characteristics and transport walking accounting for a complex suite of personal factors (residential preferences, self-assessed factors that affect decision to walk for transportation, and sociodemographics). 

Study findings suggest the associations between neighborhood characteristics and transport walking persist even after accounting for residential preferences and multiple other personal factors. Residential preferences do not remove the associations between neighborhood characteristics and transport walking although they carry additional impacts on transport walking. Further, the effects of neighborhoods on transport walking do not differ by walking attitude or residential preferences.

This work has important implications. First, incorporating a complex suite of personal factors that are related to transport walking provides a deeper insight into residential self-selection effects. Second, disentangling the effects of multiple personal factors from neighborhood effects on transport walking supports the idea that it is essential to control for residential self-selection bias when examining neighborhood built/social determinants of transport walking. Finally, our findings highlight the importance of the spatial and social neighborhood environment on transport walking and suggest that while residential preferences and other personal characteristics are important factors, they do not remove the neighborhood effects on transport walking. The policy implication is that developing walkable neighborhoods may promote transport walking which could have promising health benefits such as increasing population physical activity levels and reducing reliance on motorized vehicles.

To read the full article in the Journal of Transport Geography, click here