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Student Award winner 2015

Sponsored by The Idox Information Service



Emma Thorpe, School of Planning and Geography, Cardiff University

Getting Wales Active: Exploring Secondary School Students' Attitudes Towards Active Commuting


About the research

Little research has explored what influences the 'active travel' choices of secondary school students for their journeys to school. By understanding students' travel behaviour patterns and decisions, research could enable better, evidence-based transport planning policies and relevant infrastructure schemes.

In this research, secondary school (sixth form) students from two high schools in Cardiff participated in a series of focus groups, discussing their attitudes towards active commuting. This was complemented with a survey of parents, which included socio-economic data as well as parents' attitudes to their children's travel behaviours.

The findings from the project suggest that while the car is the most preferred mode of travel due to its perceived convenience, students were able to identify the benefits of active travel. The students identified a number of factors which influenced their decisions, including the local environment, infrastructure, family and personal reasons.

Increased active commuting to school is associated with short distances to travel to school, good street connectivity and active travel infrastructure. Wealthier families were less likely to actively commute to school, although household income and car ownership were not statistically significant factors.

The participants in the study also revealed a dislike for the local cycle network due to its poor connectivity, along with disappointment regarding the lack of pedestrian crossings in the vicinities of their schools.

"One key research question to be answered by this study was to understand which factors encourage active commuting. The main facilitator of active commuting, expressed by participants, was a short distance to travel to school, complemented by a good street connectivity to make trips as direct as possible. Well-connected local environments support the perception of walking and cycling being a rational choice, in terms of speed and convenience…"

Implications for policy and practice

This research makes specific recommendations for both Welsh Government and Cardiff Council to support more active travel. For example, in their local development plans, local authorities could limit car parking provision on and around new school sites for students and staff. It also proposes that Welsh Government should improve the Active Travel (Wales) Act, by incorporating a tandem approach to reduce the attractiveness of the car alongside its current goal of improving walking and cycling infrastructure.

Perhaps the most significant finding from the research is the importance of street connectivity in encouraging active commuting, with implications for the importance of identifying sites for new schools in well connected locations. It also suggests the need for local education authorities to undertake more detailed research on students' active travel patterns and what factors influence their decisions.

Judge's comment

"A great example of student planning research – critical but practical – which could benefit the local community."