Physical activity, which includes walking, is a key determinate of health. So, in a world of fast roads, convenience cab rides, and two vehicle families: why walk? What motivates or deters you from walking to work, the grocery store or school?
Memorial University recently hosted walkability experts from across Canada for a workshop to explore how we can better measure features that encourage or discourage people from walking.
The researchers are part of the Canadian Urban Environmental Health Research Consortium (CANUE) with a focus on neighbourhood factors including walkability, food environments, and social inequalities. Co-lead by Memorial’s Dr. Daniel Fuller, and funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the team explored environmental features that often determine whether people walk.
Traditionally, factors such as the type of road network, land use mix, and public transit systems are studied to establish walkability. Dr. Fuller’s group is taking a different approach.
“We know that influences such as snow clearing and side walk quality play a role in determining walkability,” says Dr. Fuller. “The first step for our research is to develop a method where we can scale up this type of measurement to the national level.”
Once these metrics are developed, the work shifts to collecting relevant data.
“We have started using satellite imagery and image detection methods to identify the infrastructure, such as sidewalks and crosswalks” Dr. Fuller explains. “We also intend to crowdsource information through a mobile app. This will enable us to gather and share timely details with walkers, so they can prepare, and possibly plan alternate walk routes.”
These features are intended to compliment, rather than replace, the more traditional walkability measures. They can provide important information about accessibility for cities and citizens alike. In time, these measures can help predict whether you might reach for your car keys or tie your laces.