September 23 | 2019
Assessing the micro-scale environment using Google Street View: the Virtual Systematic Tool for Evaluating Pedestrian Streetscapes (Virtual-STEPS).
Steinmetz-Wood M, Velauthapillai K, O’Brien G, Ross NA.
BMC Public Health. 2019 Sep 10;19(1):1246. doi: 10.1186/s12889-019-7460-3
Altering micro-scale features of neighborhood walkability (e.g., benches, sidewalks, and cues of social disorganization or crime) could be a relatively cost-effective method of creating environments that are conducive to active living. Traditionally, measuring the micro-scale environment has required researchers to perform observational audits. Technological advances have led to the development of virtual audits as alternatives to observational field audits with the enviable properties of cost-efficiency from elimination of travel time and increased safety for auditors. This study examined the reliability of the Virtual Systematic Tool for Evaluating Pedestrian Streetscapes (Virtual-STEPS), a Google Street View-based auditing tool specifically designed to remotely assess micro-scale characteristics of the built environment.
We created Virtual-STEPS, a tool with 40 items categorized into 6 domains (pedestrian infrastructure, traffic calming and streets, building characteristics, bicycling infrastructure, transit, and aesthetics). Items were selected based on their past abilities to predict active living and on their feasibility for a virtual auditing tool. Two raters performed virtual and field audits of street segments in Montreal neighborhoods stratified by the Walkscore that was used to determine the ‘walking-friendliness’ of a neighborhood. The reliability between virtual and field audits (n = 40), as well as inter-rater reliability (n = 60) were assessed using percent agreement, Cohen’s Kappa statistic, and the Intra-class Correlation Coefficient.
Virtual audits and field audits (excluding travel time) took similar amounts of time to perform (9.8 versus 8.2 min). Percentage agreement between virtual and field audits, and for inter-rater agreement was 80% or more for the majority of items included in the Virtual-STEPS tool. There was high reliability between virtual and field audits with Kappa and ICC statistics indicating that 20 out of 40 (50.0%) items had almost perfect agreement and 13 (32.5%) items had substantial agreement. Inter-rater reliability was also high with 17 items (42.5%) with almost perfect agreement and 11 (27.5%) items with substantial agreement.
Virtual-STEPS is a reliable tool. Tools that measure the micro-scale environment are important because changing this environment could be a relatively cost-effective method of creating environments that are conducive to active living.