Which physical and social environmental factors are most important for adolescents’ cycling for transport? An experimental study using manipulated photographs

International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition
Publication date: 
August 2017

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Background: Ecological models emphasize that cycling for transport is determined by an interplay between individual, physical and social environmental factors. The current study investigated (a) which physical and social environmental factors determine adolescents’ preferences towards cycling for transport and (b) which individual, physical and social environmental factors are associated with their intention to actually cycle for transport.

Methods: An online questionnaire consisting of questions on individual and social environmental variables, and 15 choice-based conjoint tasks with manipulated photographs was completed by 882 adolescents (55.3% male;
13.9 ± 1.6 years). Within the choice tasks, participants were asked to indicate which of two situations they would prefer to cycle to a friend’s house. The manipulated photographs were all modified versions of one semi-urban street which differed in the following physical micro-environmental attributes (separation of cycle path, evenness of cycle path, speed limit, speed bump, traffic density, amount of vegetation and maintenance). In addition, each photograph was accompanied by two sentences which described varying cycling distances and co-participation in cycling (i.e. cycling alone or with a friend). After each choice task participants were also asked if they would actually cycle in that situation in real life (i.e. intention). Hierarchical Bayes analyses were performed to calculate relative importances and part-worth utilities of environmental attributes. Logistic regression analyses were performed to investigate which individual, physical and social environmental factors were associated with adolescents’ intention to actually cycle for transport.

Results: Adolescents’ preference to cycle for transport was predominantly determined by separation of cycle path, followed by shorter cycling distance and co-participation in cycling. Higher preferences were observed for a separation between the cycle path and motorized traffic by means of a hedge versus a curb, versus a marked line. Similar findings were observed for intention to cycle. Furthermore, evenness of the cycle path and general maintenance of the street were also of considerable importance among adolescents, but to a lesser extent.

Conclusions: Results of this experimental study justify investment by local governments in well-separated cycling infrastructure, which seemed to be more important than cycling distance and the social environment.