Evaluating the travel, physical activity and carbon impacts of a 'natural experiment' in the provision of new walking and cycling infrastructure: methods for the core module of the iConnect study

David Ogilvie, Fiona Bull, Ashley Cooper, Harry Rutter, Emma Adams, Christian Brand, Karen Ghali, Tim Jones, Nanette Mutrie, Jane Powell, John Preston, Shannon Sahlqvist, Yena Song, on behalf of the iConnect Consortium

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Improving infrastructure to support walking and cycling is often regarded as fundamental to encouraging their widespread uptake. However, there is little evidence that specific provision of this kind has led to a significant increase in walking or cycling in practice, let alone wider impacts such as changes in overall physical activity or carbon emissions. Connect2 is a major new project that aims to promote walking and cycling in the UK by improving local pedestrian and cycle routes. It therefore provides a useful opportunity to contribute new evidence in this field by means of a natural experimental study. Connect is an independent study that aims to integrate the perspectives of public health and transport research on the measurement and evaluation of the travel, physical activity and carbon impacts of the Connect2 programme. In this paper, the authors report the study design and methods for the iConnect core module. This comprised a cohort study of residents living within 5 km of three case study Connect2 projects in Cardiff, Kenilworth and Southampton, supported by a programme of qualitative interviews with key informants about the projects. Participants were asked to complete postal questionnaires, repeated before and after the opening of the new infrastructure, which collected data on demographic and socioeconomic characteristics, travel, car fuel purchasing and physical activity, and potential psychosocial and environmental correlates and mediators of those behaviours. In the absence of suitable no-intervention control groups, the study design drew on heterogeneity in exposure both within and between case study samples to provide for a counterfactual. The study was approved by the University of Southampton Research Ethics Committee. The findings will be disseminated through academic presentations, peer-reviewed publications and the study website (http://www.iconnect.ac.uk) and by means of a national seminar at the end of the study.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere000694
Number of pages13
JournalBMJ Open
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2012


  • exercise
  • physical activity
  • carbon impacts
  • walking
  • cycling

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