Academic journal article URISA Journal

Active Transportation, Citizen Engagement and Livability: Coupling Citizens and Smartphones to Make the Change

Academic journal article URISA Journal

Active Transportation, Citizen Engagement and Livability: Coupling Citizens and Smartphones to Make the Change

Article excerpt


Supporting livable cities is a key priority of the Obama Administration, fully embraced by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation. Because the concept of livability implicitly focuses on land use and community design first, and transportation systems optimized to fit those land-use patterns second, the move toward a livability agenda is a radical shift in how transportation planning is carried out by local and state agencies.

In the context of livability, transportation not only becomes subservient to land-use decision making, but nonautomobile modes receive an increasing share of attention for walking, biking, and transit often are the most efficient means of helping people access destinations. Yet given the slower and more human-scaled pace and experience of these active modes, planning for pedestrian and bicycle transportation requires a detailed and more nuanced set of tools and indicators than does traditional car-based modeling. And while traditional transportation models are beginning to address walking and biking, a different type of data and planning may be needed to properly plan for increased shares of active transportation.

Unlike with the car, the decision to walk or bike and the route to take often is based on a more complex set of inputs, in addition to the importance of directness and speed. Some of those built-environment qualities may include sidewalk presence and condition, buffer between sidewalk and moving cars, type of bike facilities, lighting, street trees, architectural design, and scores of other potential variables (Pikora, Bull et al. 2002; Vernez Moudon and Lee 2003; Clifton, Smith et al. 2007). For all these objective indicators, however, they may never fully explain an individual's quick intuitive assessment of the built environment (McGinn, Evenson et al. 2007). For active transportation planning, it is likely that initial perceptions, especially the perception of safety, are critical in deciding whether individuals will even consider biking or walking as an option in the future (Ogilvie, Egan et al. 2004). This more subjective and perception-based relationship between active transportation users (or potential users) and the built environment presents a new and more complex challenge to transportation planners.

A key question then becomes, how do we create a set of national data, useful for active transportation planning, and based on individual experience of the local walking or biking environment? This paper explores a potential approach to bridging the new data needs of transportation agencies by catalyzing a general citizenry, equipped with their own smartphones, mobilized to act as both data gatherers and system users to assist local public officials in prioritizing and improving local active transportation systems. Specifically, the paper will explain the technical details and broader rationale and use of the Fix This Tool, a customized iPhone application that allows users anywhere in the country to instantly and spatially document subjective and objective conditions of their local active transportation environment.


Within its recently released strategic plan, the U.S. Department of Transportation presented the visionary new goal of transportation-supported livability. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood described a livable community as one "where if people don't want an automobile, they don't have to have one. A community where you can walk to work, your doctor's appointment, pharmacy or grocery store. Or you could take light rail, a bus or ride a bike" (Findlay 2009).

While the predominant transportation focus of the past 70 years has been to increase the mobility of automobiles, a livability orientation toward the nation's transportation systems focuses on access. The difference could not be more fundamental; the status quo seeks to move vehicles quickly (mobility) and the new goal seeks to get people to where they want to go more easily (accessibility). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.