Research: Walkability makes a street more “complete” - Mobility Lab

When people consider a street “walk-friendly,” simply put, they are more likely to walk.

This is one of the findings from a new study – conducted in Salt Lake City, Utah – that sought to evaluate the success of a “Complete Street,” one that is designed and operated to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and transit riders of all ages and abilities.

More than 1,200 Complete Streets policies exist in the United States today. The idea is now more than 10 years old, and being able to empirically confirm the long-standing hypothesis behind the movement adds strength to its importance.

The study, published recently in the Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, examined the relationship between perceived and audited walkability. The goal was to determine the correlation between physical activity and the perceived and objective assessment of walkability on a complete street.

In other words, does having a walkable street lead to more walking? The study ended up reaffirming what we already know: thinking that a street is walkable has a strong correlation with with real, measured walkability indicators as well as actual activity levels.

The researchers surveyed residents living within 1.2 miles of a complete street and tracked their activity via pedometers over the course of a year. Residents used the Neighborhood Environment Walkability Scale to assess their perception of neighborhood design features.

Neighborhood-wide walkability audits were also conducted, using 40 indicators from the Irvine Minnesota Inventory, which measures features of the built environment that affect physical activity, including walking. The research team then compared the qualitative data from the residents and the quantitative data from the audit to the residents’ activity levels.

The study confirmed residents were more likely to engage in active transportation when they lived near complete streets with perceived favorable aesthetics, traffic safety, and lower crime. Residents who lived closer to complete streets viewed traffic hazards as a greater threat to walking and biking, while crime indicators weighed more heavily on residents who lived further away.

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