THE IMPACT OF MULTIPLE SPATIAL LEVELS OF THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT ON NONMOTORIZED TRAVEL BEHAVIOR AND HEALTH
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Over the past several decades, the primacy of the automobile in American travel culture has led to rising congestion and energy consumption levels, rampant air pollution, sprawled urban designs, pervasiveness of sedentary behaviors and lifestyles, and prevalence of many health problems. Nonmotorized modes of travel such as walking and bicycling are sustainable alternatives to the automobile and suitable remedies to the adverse environmental, economic, and health effects of automobile dependency.
As research continues to reveal the many benefits of nonmotorized travel modes, identification of the factors that influence people’s levels of walking and bicycling has become essential in developing transportation planning policies and urban designs that nurture these activities, and thereby promote public health. Among such factors are the built environment characteristics of the place of residence.
To date, research on the impact of the built environment on nonmotorized travel behavior has been focused on neighborhood-level factors. Nonetheless, people do not stay within their neighborhoods; they live and work at a regional scale and travel to different places and distances each day to access various destinations. Little is known, however, about the impact of built environment factors at larger scales including those representing the overall built environment of metropolitan areas on nonmotorized travel behavior and health status of residents.
Guided by the principles of the ecological model of behavior, this dissertation systematically tests the impact of the built environment at hierarchical spatial scales on nonmotorized travel behavior and health outcomes. Advanced statistical techniques have been employed to develop integrated models allowing comprehensive examination of the complex interrelationships between the built environment, nonmotorized travel, and health.
Through inclusion of built environment factors from larger spatial scales, this research sheds light on the overlooked impact of the macro-level built environment on nonmotorized travel and health.
The findings indicate that built environment factors at various spatial scales—including the metropolitan area—can influence nonmotorized travel behavior and health outcomes of residents. Thus, to promote walking and bicycling and public health, more effective policies are those that include multilevel built environment and land use interventions and consider the overall physical form of urban areas.