2020 Volume 8 Issue 1 Pages 21-38
Children’s active travel (AT—i.e., walking, bicycling) has declined substantially, especially for independent active travel (IAT). An increasing number of studies have examined walking behaviour of adults to test the new urbanist hypothesis that design features should support pedestrian activity. More neighbourhood adult walking has been reported in new urbanist communities than in conventional suburban neighbourhoods. However, study of children’s AT in new urbanist settings is under-represented. This study investigates the association between neighbourhood design and children’s active school travel (AST) in conventional and new urbanist neighbourhoods. Three types of data collection methods were used: survey, travel diary, and devices (accelerometers and GPS units). 4-5th graders, 367 children in conventional suburban and new urbanist neighbourhoods, participated in the children’s survey. Among 367, 60 wore accelerometers and GPS units for seven consecutive days and recorded a travel diary. Built environment (BE) variables including distance to school, children’s population density, mixed land use, street density, intersection and sidewalk density, and physical activity (PA) locations around the home were measured within a quarter mile buffer of each participant’s home in ArcGIS. Analyses of a further 254 students living within 2 miles from school with opportunities for walking were also conducted. T-test confirmed all BE variables were significantly different between conventional and new urbanist neighbourhoods. New urbanist children engaged in twice the number of days of walking and 5-7 times more days of biking compared to children in conventional neighbourhoods. Maps were interpreted from the perspective of (1) sidewalk network, (2) traffic features, and (3) PA locations around the routes to schools. Results finally suggest the need for further tests of new urbanist design principles in relation to children’s AT to support development of neighbourhood design policies and interventions that may provide health promotion benefits to children.