People who live or work in towns and cities, or who visit urban areas for business or pleasure, must be able to move around quickly, conveniently and safely if urban economies and societies are to function effectively. In a society that is highly car-dependent such mobility is increasingly threatened by problems of congestion, whilst urban car use produces many negative externalities in terms of pollution, individual ill-health, high energy consumption and its associated carbon footprint.
Governments at both the national and local levels are well aware of such issues and most local authorities are taking steps to encourage more sustainable transport in urban areas. However, such schemes often lack a good information base and are predicated on rather rigid assumptions about how and why individuals make their travel choices. It is argued that real reductions in energy use, together with a range of associated economic, societal and environmental benefits, may be gained from more effective understanding of everyday mobility at the individual and household level. Such information may then be used to develop policies that lead to modal shifts which both reduce energy consumption and contribute to improved personal health and an improved environment.
Understanding Walking and Cycling
Information for improving transport policies
To make real reductions in energy use, together with a range of associated economic, societal and environmental benefits, through a more effective understanding of everyday mobility at the individual and household level.
To provide information that is used to develop policies that lead to modal shifts which both reduce energy consumption and contribute to improved personal health and an improved environment.
Case study: Understanding Walking and Cycling project
The Understanding Walking and Cycling (UWAC) project, funded by the EPSRC 2008-11, is a three-centre research project led from the Lancaster Environment Centre.
Its aim is to shed light on the ways in which individuals and households make decisions about everyday travel, to understand why walking and cycling are for many people unattractive options, and to propose ways in which transport planners and policy makers might more effectively promote more sustainable travel and thus reduce energy demand from private transport.
The research, carried out in conjunction with colleagues from the University of Leeds and Oxford Brookes University, is using a mixed methods approach which combines four main methodologies focused on four study areas in Leeds, Leicester, Worcester and Lancaster.
First, a large questionnaire survey examined attitudes towards walking and cycling using the Theory of Planned Behaviour; second, spatial analysis of the road and footpath networks of the four towns, linked to related land-use data, examined the permeability of the urban environment for walking and cycling; third, a series of individual interviews – undertaken both in the home and on the move whilst cycling or walking – examined in more depth respondents' experiences of everyday travel; and, fourth, a series of household ethnographies engaged intensively with selected families to understand better the complexities and contingencies involved in everyday travel decisions.
Results so far
Final results from the project are currently emerging, and analysis so far highlights the importance of seeing everyday travel decisions in the context of individual and household circumstances, and of not only providing improved infrastructure for cycling and walking but also of taking steps to make more sustainable travel both easy and attractive for a wider range of people and types of journey.
Impact of the findings
We are in the process of developing recommendations that will be communicated to a wide range of transport planners and policy makers.