Non-walkability in the Car-Centric City
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Background Increasing the levels of walking for transport is a widespread urban policy goal, aligning with actions related to climate change, public health, equity of access and participation, and more liveable cities. The walking environment (WE), including the built environment, traffic, public transport, and street life, is known to be associated with walking behaviour through the filter of people’s perceptions. A historic lack of interest in, and data about users’ experiences and perceptions (UX), challenges however the improvement of the WE. Indeed, there is no consensus on the deterrents to walking, and how they vary across people. Methods This research aims to (a) better understand what constitutes barriers to walking in a car-centric environment, for diverse people; (b) examine how professionals active in the delivery of the WE understand people’ needs and the priorities for retrofit; and (c) provide insights both to research (development of the theoretical model of walking) and practice (inputs regarding improvement of the WE). This research is based in Tāmaki Makaurau – Auckland, Aotearoa – New Zealand, a city of 1.5 million designed predominantly around the use of private vehicles. The theoretical framework named by the PhD candidate the Social Model of Walkability, was identified from previous research and further developed throughout the project. Methods included: two literature reviews; a quantitative analysis of associations between perceived walkability and walking levels; content analysis exploring perceived barriers to walking (interviews and inputs from Citizen Scientists); characterisation of barriers reported by participants using objective measures; triangulation of experienced barriers, measures and recommendations from guidelines; and the thematic analysis of professionals’ views (survey and focus group data). Results The findings include important aspects for both further research and the urban design, transport planning, and public health practices. Namely: The importance of considering walking within the broader transport system – the findings suggested the importance of the use of public transport and of the perceptions of walking as compared to other available alternatives, on walking behaviour. Characterisation of barriers that can discourage people from walking to destinations that they perceive as being within a walkable distance. Insights into the moderating role of disability in the associations between objectively measured WE, perceived walkability, and behaviour. Gaps in local and international guidelines relative to identifying barriers to walking. Professionals’ agreements and disagreements on users’ needs and the priorities for retrofit. Conclusion This thesis contributed new knowledge regarding barriers to walking as perceived by non-disabled and disabled people, objectively measured, described in technical guidelines, and understood by professionals. Associations and misalignments were outlined, and recommendations were made for research and the practice. Findings include practical insights that can help prioritise retrofit of the WE in a way that harnesses users’ insights.