Street characteristics preferred for transportation walking among older adults: a choice-based conjoint analysis with manipulated photographs

Knowledge about the relationships between micro-scale environmental factors and older adults’ walking for transport is limited and inconsistent. This is probably due to methodological limitations, such as absence of an accurate neighborhood definition, lack of environmental heterogeneity, environmental co-variation, and recall bias. Furthermore, most previous studies are observational in nature. We aimed to address these limitations by investigating the effects of manipulating photographs on micro-scale environmental factors on the appeal of a street for older adults’ transportation walking. Secondly, we used latent class analysis to examine whether subgroups could be identified that have different environmental preferences for transportation walking. Thirdly, we investigated whether these subgroups differed in socio-demographic, functional and psychosocial characteristics, current level of walking and environmental perceptions of their own street.
Data were collected among 1131 Flemish older adults through an online (n = 940) or an interview version of the questionnaire (n = 191). This questionnaire included a choice-based conjoint exercise with manipulated photographs of a street. These manipulated photographs originated from one panoramic photograph of an existing street that was manipulated on nine environmental attributes. Participants chose which of two presented streets they would prefer to walk for transport.
In the total sample, sidewalk evenness had by far the greatest appeal for transportation walking. The other environmental attributes were less important. Four subgroups that differed in their environmental preferences for transportation walking were identified. In the two largest subgroups (representing 86 % of the sample) sidewalk evenness was the most important environmental attribute. In the two smaller subgroups (each comprising 7 % of the sample), traffic volume and speed limit were the most important environmental attributes for one, and the presence of vegetation and a bench were the most important environmental attributes for the other. This latter subgroup included a higher percentage of service flat residents than the other subgroups.
Our results suggest that the provision of even sidewalks should be considered a priority when developing environmental interventions aiming to stimulate older adults’ transportation walking. Natural experiments are needed to confirm whether our findings can be translated to real environments and actual transportation walking behavior.