Is a bike lane enough? What about a multi-use pathway? New research suggests that looking at interventions one at a time may be problematic when trying to remove barriers to active travel in older adults

For the attention of: Municipal staff and elected officials, urban planners, and active transportation engineers

The problem: Older adults experience many unique barriers preventing the use of active transportation. Barriers can differ between cities, but also between different neighbourhoods within the same city. Despite the multitude of benefits of active transportation, for both the individual and society, participation is low among older adults. The current approach is to perform interventions that target one barrier; however that approach may not be adequate in improving participation rates.

What we did and why: Our study linked survey data from local residents with postal code derived data sets in Canada (CANUE and WalkScore). These provided active transportation ‘friendliness’ scores. Our sample was divided into four neighbourhoods across the same mid-sized suburban city. We compared perceived barriers to the neighbourhood environment. This allowed us to see if actual vs perceived constraints aligned; and what, according to older adults, were the significant barriers to active transportation.

What our study adds: Our novel findings suggest the need for larger scale studies that assess single vs. multiple intervention targets and their effect on active travel in older adults.

  • Our focus on older adults allows for more specific interventions to improve age-friendliness of cities.
  • Our data further highlight some of the major environmental barriers to active travel facing older adults.

Implications for city policy and practice: The implications are clear;

  • Policy and decision-makers need to be inclusive in their decisions and designs and consider the needs of older adults
  • Approaches to active transportation interventions need to take a holistic approach to be truly effective
  • Proper interventions need to be effective across many aspects to truly remove constraints

For additional information see:

The GeoHealth Network exists to bridge this knowledge gap. We are a community of dedicated graduate students at the University of Toronto, bringing you curated health-geography content.

The Canadian Urban Environmental Health Research Consortium for the understanding urban living and human health

The Walk Score website provides a tool to promote walkable neighbourhoods. It states that walkable neighbourhoods are one of the simplest and best solutions for the environment, our health, and our economy.

Full research article: Constraints to active transportation in older adults across four neighbourhoods: a descriptive study from Canada

Authors: Nicholas O’Rourke & Shilpa Dogra (@DrSDogra)

Editor: Marcus Grant (@MarcusxGrant)