From the concrete to the intangible: understanding the diverse experiences and impacts of new transport infrastructure

Changes to the environment that support active travel have the potential to increase population physical activity. The Cambridgeshire Guided Busway is an example of such an intervention that provides new traffic-free infrastructure for walking, cycling and public transport. This qualitative investigation explored the diverse experiences of new transport infrastructure and its impacts on active travel behaviours.
Thirty-eight adult participants from the Commuting and Health in Cambridge natural experimental study were purposively selected according to their demographic and travel behaviour change characteristics and invited to participate in semi-structured interviews between February and June 2013. A mixed-method, following-a-thread approach was used to construct two contrasting vignettes (stories) to which the participants were asked to respond as part of the interviews. Inductive thematic qualitative analysis of the interview data was performed with the aid of QSR NVivo8.
Perceptions of the busway’s attributes were important in shaping responses to it. Some participants rarely considered the new transport infrastructure or described it as unappealing because of its inaccessibility or inconvenient routing. Others located more conveniently for access points experienced the new infrastructure as an attractive travel option. Likewise, the guided buses and adjacent path presented ambiguous spaces which were received in different ways, depending on travel preferences. While new features such as on board internet access or off-road cycling were appreciated, shortcomings such as overcrowded buses or a lack of path lighting were barriers to use. The process of adapting to the environmental change was discussed in terms of planning and trialling new behaviours. The establishment of the busway in commuting patterns appeared to be influenced by whether the anticipated benefits of change were realised.
This study examined the diverse responses to an environmental intervention that may help to explain small or conflicting aggregate effects in quantitative outcome evaluation studies. Place and space features, including accessibility, convenience, pleasantness and safety relative to the alternative options were important for the acceptance of the busway. Our findings show how environmental change supporting active travel and public transport can encourage behaviour change for some people in certain circumstances.

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