Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Public Health and BioMed Central.

Open Access Research article

Walking and cycling to work despite reporting an unsupportive environment: insights from a mixed-method exploration of counterintuitive findings

Cornelia Guell12*, Jenna Panter1 and David Ogilvie1

Author Affiliations

1 Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit and UKCRC Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR), Institute of Public Health, Cambridge, UK

2 Present address: Faculty of Medical Sciences, University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, PO Box 64, BB11000 Bridgetown, Barbados

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Public Health 2013, 13:497  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-497

Published: 24 May 2013

Abstract

Background

Perceptions of the environment appear to be associated with walking and cycling. We investigated the reasons for walking and cycling to or from work despite reporting an unsupportive route environment in a sample of commuters.

Methods

This mixed-method analysis used data collected as part of the Commuting and Health in Cambridge study. 1164 participants completed questionnaires which assessed the travel modes used and time spent on the commute and the perceived environmental conditions on the route to work. A subset of 50 also completed qualitative interviews in which they discussed their experiences of commuting. Participants were included in this analysis if they reported unsupportive conditions for walking or cycling on their route (e.g. heavy traffic) in questionnaires, walked or cycled all or part of the journey to work, and completed qualitative interviews. Using content analysis of these interviews, we investigated their reasons for walking or cycling.

Results

340 participants reported walking or cycling on the journey to work despite unsupportive conditions, of whom 15 also completed qualitative interviews. From these, three potential explanations emerged. First, some commuters found strategies for coping with unsupportive conditions. Participants described knowledge of the locality and opportunities for alternative routes more conducive to active commuting, as well as their cycling experience and acquired confidence to cycle in heavy traffic. Second, some commuters had other reasons for being reliant on or preferring active commuting despite adverse environments, such as childcare arrangements, enjoyment, having more control over their journey time, employers’ restrictions on car parking, or the cost of petrol or parking. Finally, some survey respondents appeared to have reported not their own environmental perceptions but those of others such as family members or ‘the public’, partly to make a political statement regarding the adversity of active commuting in their setting.

Conclusions

Participants report walking and cycling to work despite adverse environmental conditions. Understanding this resilience might be just as important as investigating ‘barriers’ to cycling. These findings suggest that developing knowledge of safe walking and cycling routes, improving cycling confidence and restricting workplace parking may help to encourage walking and cycling to and from work.

Keywords:
Mixed methods; Transport; Active commuting; Environmental perceptions