Few studies have evaluated the effects of infrastructural improvements to promote walking and cycling. Even fewer have explored how the context and mechanisms of such interventions may interact to produce their outcomes.
This mixed-method analysis forms part of the UK iConnect study, which aims to evaluate new walking and cycling routes at three sites — Cardiff, Kenilworth and Southampton. Applying a complementary follow-up approach, we first identified differences in awareness and patterns of use of the infrastructure in survey data from a cohort of adult residents at baseline in spring 2010 (n = 3516) and again one (n = 1849) and two (n = 1510) years later following completion of the infrastructural projects (Analysis 1). We subsequently analysed data from 17 semi-structured interviews with key informants to understand how the new schemes might influence walking and cycling (Analysis 2a). In parallel, we analysed cohort survey data on environmental perceptions (Analysis 2b). We integrated these two datasets to interpret differences across the sites consistent with a theoretical framework that hypothesised that the schemes would improve connectivity and the social environment.
After two years, 52% of Cardiff respondents reported using the infrastructure compared with 37% in Kenilworth and 22% in Southampton. Patterns of use did not vary substantially between sites. 17% reported using the new infrastructure for transport, compared with 39% for recreation. Environmental perceptions at baseline were generally unfavourable, with the greatest improvements in Cardiff. Qualitative data revealed that all schemes had a recreational focus to varying extents, that the visibility of schemes to local people might be an important mechanism driving use and that the scale and design of the schemes and the contrast they presented with existing infrastructure may have influenced their use.
The dominance of recreational uses may have reflected the specific local goals of some of the projects and the discontinuity of the new infrastructure from a satisfactory network of feeder routes. Greater use in Cardiff may have been driven by the mechanisms of greater visibility and superior design features within the context of an existing environment that was conducive neither to walking or cycling nor to car travel.