BACKGROUND: Increasing participation in transportation cycling represents a useful strategy for increasing children's physical activity levels. Knowledge on how to design environments to encourage adoption and maintenance of transportation cycling is limited and relies mainly on observational studies. The current study experimentally investigates the relative importance of micro-scale environmental factors for children's transportation cycling, as these micro-scale factors are easier to change within an existing neighborhood compared to macro-scale environmental factors (i.e. connectivity, land-use mix, …).
METHODS: Researchers recruited children and their parents (n = 1232) via 45 randomly selected schools across Flanders and completed an online questionnaire which consisted of 1) demographic questions; and 2) a choice-based conjoint (CBC) task. During this task, participants chose between two photographs which we had experimentally manipulated in seven micro-scale environmental factors: type of cycle path; evenness of cycle path; traffic speed; traffic density; presence of speed bumps; environmental maintenance; and vegetation. Participants indicated which route they preferred to (let their child) cycle along. To find the relative importance of these micro-scale environmental factors, we conducted Hierarchical Bayes analyses.
RESULTS: Type of cycle path emerged as the most important factor by far among both children and their parents, followed by traffic density and maintenance, and evenness of the cycle path among children. Among parents, speed limits and maintenance emerged as second most important, followed by evenness of the cycle path, and traffic density.
CONCLUSION: Findings indicate that improvements in micro-scale environmental factors might be effective for increasing children's transportation cycling, since they increase the perceived supportiveness of the physical environment for transportation cycling. Investments in creating a clearly designated space for the young cyclist, separated from motorized traffic, appears to be the most effective way to increase perceived supportiveness. Future research should confirm our laboratory findings with experimental on-site research.