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The missing middle: Filling the gap between walkability and observed walking behavior

TitleThe missing middle: Filling the gap between walkability and observed walking behavior
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsHerrmann, T., Boisjoly G., Ross N. A., and El-Geneidy A. M.
JournalTransportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board
Pages103 - 110

Many fields of study recognize the interdependent health, environmental, and economic benefits of walking. To promote walking in entire populations, measures such as Walk Score have been developed to classify the walking friendliness or walkability of places. Yet high walkability is not always equated with increased walking. This paper investigates this discrepancy with the use of survey data on pedestrian behavior; a variety of geographic information system-derived land use and built environment measures of neighborhoods in Montreal, Quebec, Canada; and socioeconomic characteristics obtained from the 2011 National Household Survey. A descriptive analysis of walking behavior and neighborhood characteristics reveals that some neighborhoods with higher walking rates are characterized by a lower presence of parking lots and setbacks and a greater proportion of on-street tree canopy. Linear regressions predicting walking rates confirm these associations after adjusting for Walk Score and neighborhood socioeconomic characteristics. These findings suggest that more work is needed for nuancing walkability measures and offer particular insight for health professionals, planners, and engineers looking to promote walking as an alternative and healthier mode of transport. Reducing open space, such as parking lots and setbacks, and increasing street-level tree canopy are two ways that the urban built environment can be modified to support walking, especially in areas with high Walk Score and low walking rates.

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