As physical activity levels decrease as children age, sustainable and accessible forms of physical activity are needed from a young age. Transportation cycling is one such physical activity and has been associated with many benefits. The aims of the study were to identify whether manipulating micro-environmental factors (e.g. speed limis, evenness of cycle path) within a photographed street influences the perceived supportiveness for transportation cycling; and whether changing these micro-environmental factors has the same effect across different street settings.
We recruited 305 fifth and sixth grade children and their parents from twelve randomly selected primary schools in Flanders, Belgium. They completed a web-based questionnaire including 12 choice-based conjoint tasks, in which they had to choose between two possible routes depicted on manipulated photographs, which the child would cycle along. The routes differed in four attributes: general street setting (enclosed, half open, open), evenness of cycle path (very uneven, moderately uneven, even), speed limit (70 km/h, 50 km/h, 30 km/h) and degree of separation between a cycle path and motorised traffic (no separation, curb, hedge). Hierarchical Bayes analyses revealed the relative importance of each micro-environmental attribute across the three street settings.
For each attribute, children and their parents chose routes that had the best alternative (i.e. open street setting, even cycle path, 30 km/h, a hedge separating the cycle path from motorised traffic). The evenness of the cycle path and lower speed limit had the largest effect for the children, while the degree of separation and lower speed limit had the largest effect for their parents. Interactions between micro-scale and macro-scale factors revealed differences in the magnitude but not direction of their effects on route choice. The results held across the different kinds of street settings tested.
Improving micro-scale attributes may increase the supportiveness of a street for children’s transportation cycling. We call for on-site research to test effects of changes in micro-environmental attributes on transportation cycling among children.