November 9 | 2020

Moving to policy-amenable options for built environment research: The role of micro-scale neighborhood environment in promoting walking.

Madeleine Steinmetz-WoodAhmed El-Geneidy, Nancy A Ross.

Health Place. 2020 Oct 26;66:102462. doi: 10.1016/j.healthplace.2020.102462.


Background: Altering micro-scale features of neighborhoods (e.g., the presence and condition of benches, sidewalks, trees, crossing signals, walking paths) could be a relatively cost-effective method of creating environments that are conducive to physical activity. The Virtual Systematic Tool for Evaluating Pedestrian Streetscapes (Virtual-STEPS) was created to virtually audit the microscale environment of cities using Google Street View (GSV). The objective of this study was to evaluate the collective influence of items from the Virtual-STEPS tool on walking outcomes (utilitarian walking and walking for leisure), while accounting for self-selection of walkers into walking-friendly neighborhoods.

Methods: Adults (N = 1403) were recruited from Montreal and Toronto from neighborhoods stratified by their level of macro-scale walking-friendliness and walking rates. The micro-scale environment of 5% of street segments from the selected neighborhoods was audited using the Virtual-STEPS tool and a micro-scale environment score was assigned. The scores were then linked to each respondent from the survey. A multilevel logistic regression analysis was used to model the relationship between the micro-scale environment score and odds of both utilitarian walking (i.e., walking for purpose such as to go shopping or go to work or school) and walking for leisure for at least 150 min per week, while accounting for environmental and demographic covariates as well as self-selection.

Results: Micro-scale neighborhood features were associated with elevated odds of walking for leisure (OR: 1.14, CI: 1.04-1.25). The association between micro-scale neighborhood features and walking for utilitarian purposes was, however, inconclusive (OR: 1.01, CI: 0.90-1.13). On the other hand, macro-scale walk-friendliness was associated with elevated odds of walking for utilitarian purposes (OR: 2.01, CI:1.42-2.84) and the association between macro-scale features and leisure walking was inconclusive (OR: 1.02, CI: 0.78-1.34).

Conclusions: Our results imply that micro-scale features of neighborhoods collectively promote leisure walking but not necessarily utilitarian walking, even after accounting for self-selection. In contrast, macro-scale features may collectively promote utilitarian walking, but not leisure walking. Micro scale features of neighborhoods fall within the budget of local jurisdictions and our results suggest that jurisdictions that improve micro-scale features may expect increased leisure walking in populations.