New light rail transit and active travel: A longitudinal study

Andy Hong, Marlon Boarnet, and Douglas Houston have published a paper in Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice which studies the impact of light rail on active travel (or physical activity related to transport).

Hong, Andy; Boarnet, Marlon; Houston, Douglas. (10/2016) New light rail transit and active travel: A longitudinal studyTransportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice.
Volume 92, October 2016, Pages 131–144

Abstract

We use panel data to investigate the before-and-after impact of a new light rail transit line on active travel behavior. Participants were divided into a treatment group and a control group (residing <½ mile and >½ mile from a new light rail transit station, respectively). Self-reported walking (n = 204) and accelerometer-measured physical activity (n = 73) were obtained for both groups before and after the new light rail transit opened. This is the first application of an experimental-control group study design around light rail in California, and one of the first in the U.S. Our panel design provides an opportunity for stronger causal inference than is possible in the much more common study designs that use cross-sectional data. It also provides an opportunity to examine how an individual’s previous activity behavior influences the role that new light rail transit access plays in promoting active travel behavior. The results show that, when not controlling for subject’s before-opening walking or physical activity, there was no significant relationship between treatment group status and after-opening walking or physical activity. However, when controlling for an interaction between baseline walking/physical activity and treatment group membership, we found that living within a half-mile of a transit station was associated with an increase in walking and physical activity for participants who previously had low walking and physical activity levels. The results were opposite for participants with previously high walking and physical activity levels. Future policy and research should consider the possibility that sedentary populations may be more responsive to new transit investments, and more targeted “soft” approaches in transit service would be needed to encourage people to make healthy travel choices.