Representing active travel: a formative evaluation of a computer animation visualisation model showing a new walking and cycling route in Glasgow

Emma M. Bill, Graham Baker, Neil S. Ferguson, David Drinkwater, Nanette Mutrie

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Transport and public health researchers have a shared interest in the promotion of active travel. Walking and cycling are activities that may help achieve health benefits, while also contributing to wider sustainability goals, such as a reduction in carbon emissions from transport, and improvements in air pollution and congestion. A variety of interventions have been used to promote travel behaviour change, for example, infrastructure change and personalised travel planning. Some researchers have directed their interest towards the potential of technology and visual representation to motivate and engage individuals to become more sustainable. Computer visualisation tools may be an instrument to prompt behaviour change, leading to a shift towards more active modes of travel.
Visualisation technology has been used for multiple purposes including raising awareness of global environmental problems, scenario modelling and the representation of walking and cycling futures. Recently, the availability of large data sets has led to the visualisation of system usage data from cycle hire schemes. Elsewhere, various representations of personal journey data have been evaluated in terms of their capabilities to change behaviour. Currently it is thought that the technical possibilities of visualisations exceed the knowledge of their correct application. Therefore, methods and guidelines for producing and applying visualisations are required. To our knowledge, tThere has been no evaluation of use of a visualisation that shows infrastructure change to promote active travel.
Participants were asked to watch a computer visualisation of a new walking and cycling route in Glasgow. This animated visualisation included an existing segregated cycling facility and pedestrian and cyclist bridge. Eleven semi-structured interviews and two focus groups considered the potential utility of visualisation in promoting a new walking and cycling facility and identified any limitations of this approach and potential improvements.
The results suggested that visualisation technology has the potential to stimulate debate on in-journey accounts of active travel and the embodied experience of cycling. The built environment and psychosocial factors that culminate in road user conflicts were discussed. The perception of non-motorised modes of transport as risky was not overlooked by participants, who shared their knowledge of cycling road safety and ‘correct’ walking and cycling behaviours. Participants responded positively to the appearance of protection from traffic by the new routes. However, many criticised the limited coverage of the visualisation and low traffic volumes.
The decision to cycle is often made in the context of real-life constraints that were not fully replicated in this visualisation. Further development of visualisation technology may be needed before it can be used successfully for active travel interventions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)450-467
Number of pages18
JournalEnvironment and Planning B: Planning and Design
Issue number3
Early online date13 Jan 2015
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • active travel
  • evaluation
  • glasgow
  • computer animation visualisation model
  • new walking
  • cycling route


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