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Active transportation promotion for Canadian adults: A scoping review and environmental scan

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About the project

Active transport (i.e., moving oneself from place to place by walking, cycling or other active means) is recognized as a sustainable and inclusive form of transportation. It is also a primary source of physical activity for most adults and the associated benefits are clear for community well-being, air pollution, climate change, environment and health. Unfortunately, most Canadian adults do not employ active transport on a daily basis.

To help identify potential policies and interventions that may shed insight on active transport of adults, two reviews were conducted. First, we performed a rapid review of reviews describing the promotion of active transport among Canadian adults. This involved searching the research literature for Canadian-specific reviews published since 2017 that summarized evidence of policies, interventions or programs that supported active transport among Canadian adults. Second, a scoping review was conducted of published reviews, including international and Canadian content, that described policies and interventions that influence or affect active transport among adults.

Key findings

  • Based on our preliminary scan of Canadian-based research and our scoping review, it is apparent that many studies and reviews have attempted to examine policies and interventions in relation to active transport among adults.
  • In Canada, most provinces have some dedicated programs and/or strategies to facilitate active transport.
  • The research evidence shows that walkability and land use are consistently associated with walking for transport in this country.
  • Similarly, the majority of systematic reviews in the scoping review focused on the built environment and showed consistent associations between active transport and walkability, availability of destinations near residential areas, and supportive infrastructure for cycling.
  • Availability of public transit and ease of access to public transit facilities is associated with eight to 33 minutes of walking among adults.
  • No, or limited, evidence was noted for financial incentives or other fiscal initiatives and active transport.
  • Although few reviews were available on interventions to foster active transport, some evidence exists for encouraging shifts in travel modes from privately owned automobiles and for constructing bike lanes.
  • Overall, the evidence was considered weak because most of the studies in the reviews were cross-sectional, which limits making causal claims.

Policy implications

  • Most of the evidence supports a critically important role for the influence of the built environment on active transport.
  • Any evaluation of the National Active Transportation Strategy should consider employing an ecological perspective when assessing impact on active transport behaviour. This would involve documenting changes to the spaces and places in which active transport occurs (e.g., pedestrian-friendly environment, construction of bike lanes, increased access to public transit) along with individual behaviour.
  • To more effectively promote and facilitate active transport in Canada, partnerships and coordination will be necessary across sectors and levels of government.
  • Future areas of research include examinations of natural experiments (e.g., evaluations of active transport infrastructure enhancement projects) and further exploration of the factors that may moderate the influence of the environment on active transport (e.g., winter conditions).
  • In Canada, more research is needed on supports for active transport in rural areas and the territories.

Further information

Contact the researchers

John C. Spence, Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation, University of Alberta: jc.spence@ualberta.ca

Christine Cameron, Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute: c.cameron@cflri.ca

Guy Faulkner, School of Kinesiology, Faculty of Education, The University of British Columbia: guy.faulkner@ubc.ca

Marie-Soleil Cloutier, Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique: Marie-Soleil.Cloutier@ucs.inrs.ca

The views expressed in this evidence brief are those of the authors and not those of SSHRC, Infrastructure Canada or the Government of Canada.

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