STUDY: How Individual- & County-Level Factors Are Associated with Public Support for Active Transportation Policies

A study from the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health in collaboration with the Physical Activity Policy Research Network (PAPRN) assessed the predictors of stated support for policies promoting physically active travel, and found that such support is higher in areas where larger investments are made in active travel infrastructure, public transit is accessible, and where residents are in a car for more than 2 hours each day.

As more interest is being generated across the U.S. to redevelop communities to better accommodate methods of active travel – such as walking or biking – community resident’s level of support for the promotion of active travel may differ. Cradock et al. looked at how U.S. residents differ in their level of support for policies promoting physically active transportation by factors including personal transportation behaviors, local levels of previous investment in cycling and pedestrian projects, and current access to relevant active transport resources.

To facilitate this study, the team leveraged individual-level data from a 2011 survey of U.S. adults, known as the Physical Activity and Health Environments Policy Survey (PAHEPS), as well as county-level data from the U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). This work was done collaboratively as part of the Physical Activity Policy Research Network (PAPRN), a Thematic Research Network of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The PAHEPS utilized measures that assessed support for 5 policies that promote physically active travel. In addition, the survey asked about an individual’s perceived level of access to active travel facilities and the amount of time respondents spent in a car on a typical weekday. County-level factors collected from other sources included obesity and physical activity status, urban/rural status, household car dependence, household income, and federal funds obligated for bicycle and pedestrian projects.

Most study participants supported policies to promote physically active transportation:

  • 89% of survey respondents supported policies for accommodating bicyclists and pedestrians through street improvements
  • 75% supported school active travel programs
  • 67% supported employer-funded active commuting incentives
  • 67% supported allocation of public funding for building and maintaining public transit
  • 56% expressed tax support for building and maintaining public transit

Locally, support for policies that promote active transportation may differ according to individual or collective experience:

  • Respondents who spent more than 2 hours per day in a car were about 9 times more likely to support accommodating bicyclists and pedestrians in street improvements than those spending less than 0.7 hours in a car daily
  • Respondents in counties with the highest level of prior investment in bicycling and pedestrian improvements (more than $1.6 million in cycling and pedestrian improvements in the two decades prior to the survey) were about 7 times more likely to support for funding as well as tax increases for building and maintaining public transit, compared to those residents in counties with the lowest level of previous investments
  • Residents who lived within a short walk to public transit were 7 times more likely to support funds for building or maintaining public transit and 1.9 times more likely to support tax increases for public transit

The findings of this study show that levels of support for policies that promote active travel may vary based on individual and collective experience. In areas with better access to active travel facilities, the research suggests that both use and demand is higher. Communities looking to promote active travel policies may want to start with initiatives at the local level first to build personal experience and cultivate future support.

Cradock AL, Barrett JL, Chriqui JF, Evenson KR, Valentine Goins K, Gustat J, Heinrich KM, Perry CK, Scanze M, Schmid TL, Tabak RG, Umstattd Meyer R, Valko C. Driven to Support: Individual- and County-Level Factors Associated With Public Support for Active Transportation PoliciesAm J Health Promot. 2017 Nov 6. e-View Ahead of Print.