Date of Award

Spring 2011

Project Type


Program or Major

Earth and Environmental Science

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Kevin H Gardner


Retrofitting existing neighborhoods and communities to remove barriers to walking and allow residents to choose walking as a mode of transportation has the potential to both stabilize energy used for transportation and transportation infrastructure and provide physical activity for improved health, shifting the energy used for transportation from cars to people. This study brings together community-based research, an interdisciplinary team approach, and multi-level modeling to investigate how community design impacts transportation behavior in the context of smaller, northeastern cities.

Ten neighborhoods of varying design, connectivity, proximity to services, and average income were selected in each of the cities for a total of twenty neighborhoods studied. A survey of neighborhood residents provided demographic, health, and transportation behavior information. The built environment within the neighborhoods was analyzed using field visits and published GIS data. Data analysis included multi-level modeling to account for the within-neighborhood clustered design of data collection.

Working together with the people for whom the results were intended allowed for use of a greater network of contacts for project development and implementation, which helped greatly. Involving municipal and regional authorities throughout the project increased the chances that results will be useful and will reach residents, and resulted in increased communication between the authorities themselves.

Presence of sidewalks and intersections were found to be associated with the number of destinations respondents reported walking. Municipalities that would like to increase walking for public health or energy use reduction should investigate improving the condition and availability of sidewalks in neighborhoods, increasing connectivity of pedestrian ways, and improving safety and perceived security at intersections.

Age appeared to be the most important demographic factor in decisions to walk, more important than self-reported health or income. Helping the elderly, as they age in place, to continue to feel secure through improved walking surfaces and walking environments could be a fruitful focus of municipal programs and initiatives.