Walkability case-study

Developing an open source online tool to create more walkable neighbourhood.

 

Background

  • Physical inactivity is the fourth leading contributor to disease globally[1] and increasing physical activity is a priority, both within Australia and internationally.
  • Given that there are recognised health benefits associated with active lifestyles as well as significant benefits and cost savings that can be derived from even modest increases in physical activity, identifying factors that facilitate walkable environments is essential.[2]
  • One approach is through the design of urban environments which promote walking whilst also providing a range of co-benefits including increased social interaction, sustainability and environmental protection.
  • In the last decade, an emerging and growing body of evidence confirms that pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods with mixed land uses, increased densities, connected street networks and attractive urban design, encourages walking to benefit health.[3]

 

Challenge

  • Creating more walkable neighbourhoods is a challenge requiring evidence and advocacy to help change policy, urban design, transportation practice and public opinion.[4]
  • ‘Walkability’ depends on a range of factors – comprehensive approaches are required for creating more walkable neighbourhoods.
  • Measuring walkability requires appropriate spatial data as well as specialist Geographic Information System (GIS) expertise. This data and relevant GIS technology can be difficult and costly to access. Consequently, there has been limited use of walkability measures to inform federal, state and local government health and planning policy and practice. Currently no readily or broadly accessible evidence-based spatial analytic tool is available to assess the level to which Australian urban areas promote walking.
  • Given rapid growth in the north west region of Melbourne, this project was undertaken in partnership with the Department of Health and the North West Regional Management Forum to address the challenges set out above using the Melbourne north west corridor as a demonstrable case study for the development, trial and validation of a walkability tool within an existing e-infrastructure framework: the AURIN Portal.

 

 Outcome

  • Through this project, there is now a valuable open source interactive tool (the AURIN Walkability Tool) for researchers, planners and urban designers to measure and visualise which characteristics of the physical environment contribute to walkable neighbourhoods which promote health.[5]
  • The AURIN walkability tool is evidence-based: it measures a series of key built environment features which were found to be significant in association with walking: residential density, land use mix and street connectivity.[6]
  • It will assist in the translation of existing research into policy and practice and facilitate future built environment research, by overcoming access barriers to spatial data and the lack of specialised GIS expertise to calculate walkability.
  • The AURIN walkability tool is a very flexible analytic tool: users can design their specific measurement areas and collect walkability metrics at various scale levels. Using this system, walkability can be examined at varying scales and locations across Australia.
  • It can help decision makers with measuring key factors impacting on walkability and thus with assessing what needs to be done in order to improve the walkability of a study area.
  • The AURIN walkability tool is useful for incorporating health and well-being outcomes in urban models and for exploring policy related questions such as: How is neighbourhood walkability related to public transport access?; and What urban interventions could increase the pedestrian catchments of railway station services?
  • This project facilitated access to (previously disparate) data sets for the Melbourne north west corridor and in turn will provide researchers, planners, practitioners and policy makers across the country with access to the data via the AURIN portal.
  • Such unprecedented data access will enable world-class research that will be focused toward addressing the key policy issues in the north west region of Melbourne.

 

Participant comments:

“The AURIN Walkability Index Tool can be used to assess the overall walkability of cities, suburbs or neighbourhoods or even the walkability of the specific neighbourhood surrounding a single home or destination (for example, a school or aged care facility). It can therefore provide a baseline measure prior to the implementation of built environment modifications, allowing change to be monitored over time and evaluation of infrastructure investments to be determined.” [7]  State of Australian Cities Conference 2013

From the Project Director: “Urban settlement policymakers are really dealing with very complex problems as we go into the 21st century. By 2050, Australia’s population could almost double. How are we going to mobilise, feed, house those populations? They are complex problems and I think the beauty of the AURIN Portal is it brings together all the data sets that can facilitate good decision-making.”    Professor Billie Giles-Corti, Director of the McCaughey Centre, The University of Melbourne.

 

Notes:

[1] World Health Organization. ‘Global health risks: Mortality and burden of disease attributable to selected major risks’, Geneva, Switzerland: WHO, 2009.

[2]Giles-Corti, B., et al., 2010, ‘The co-benefits for health of investing in active transportation’, New South Wales public health bulletin, 21(6):122-127.

[3] Transportation Research Board, 2005 ‘Does the Built Environment Influence Physical Activity?’ Transportation Research Board Special Report 282, Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, USA.

[4]Saelens BE, Handy SL. ‘Built environment correlates of walking: a review’, Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2008;40(7 Suppl):S550.

[5]Giles-Corti, B., et al., 2013, ‘Development and Trial of an Automated Open Source Walkability Index Tool through the Australian Urban Research Infrastructure Network’s Open Source Portal’, State of Australian Cities Conference 2013: Refereed Proceedings, State of Australian Cities Research Network, Sydney.

[6]Frank, L., et al., 2010, ‘The development of a walkability index: Application to the Neighborhood Quality of Life Study’ British Journal of Sports Medicine 44:924-933.

[7] Giles-Corti, B., et al., 2013, ‘Development and Trial of an Automated Open Source Walkability Index Tool through the Australian Urban Research Infrastructure Network’s Open Source Portal’, State of Australian Cities Conference 2013: Refereed Proceedings, State of Australian Cities Research Network, Sydney.