Connectivity and Physical Activity: Using Footpath Networks to Measure the Walkability of Built Environments

Geraint Ellis, Ruth F. Hunter, Mark Tully, Michael Donnelly, Luke Kelleher, Frank Kee

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97 Citations (Scopus)
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There is now a strong body of research that suggests that the form of the built environment can influence levels of physical activity, leading to an increasing interest in incorporating health objectives into spatial planning and regeneration policies and projects. There have been a number of strands to this research, one of which has sought to develop “objective” measurements of the built environment using Geographic Information Science (GIS) involving measures of connectivity and proximity to compare the relative “walkability” of different neighbourhoods. The development of the “walkability index” (e.g. Leslie et al 2007, Frank et al 2010) has become a popular indicator of spatial distribution of those features of the built environment that are considered to have the greatest positive influence on levels of physical activity. The success of this measure is built on its ability to succinctly capture built environment correlates of physical activity using routinely available spatial data, which includes using road centre lines as a basis of a proxy for connectivity.

This paper discusses two key aspects of the walkability index. First, it follows the suggestion of Chin et al (2008) that the use of a footpath network (where available), rather than road centre lines, may be far more effective in evaluating walkability. This may be particularly important for assessing changes in walkability arising from pedestrian-focused infrastructure projects, such as greenways. Second, the paper explores the implication of this for how connectivity can be measured. The paper takes six different measures of connectivity and first analyses the relationships between them and then tests their correlation with actual levels of physical activity of local residents in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The analysis finds that the best measurements appear to be intersection density and metric reach and uses this finding to discuss the implications of this for developing tools that may better support decision-making in spatial planning.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)130-151
JournalEnvironment and Planning B: Planning and Design
Issue number1
Early online date14 Oct 2015
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jan 2016


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