Differences in physical environmental characteristics between adolescents' actual and shortest cycling routes: a study using a google street view-based audit
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Background: The objective evaluation of the physical environmental characteristics (e.g. speed limit, cycling infrastructure) along adolescents' actual cycling routes remains understudied, although it may provide important insights into why adolescents prefer one cycling route over another. The present study aims to gain insight into the physical environmental characteristics determining the route choice of adolescent cyclists by comparing differences in physical environmental characteristics between their actual cycling routes and the shortest possible cycling routes. Methods: Adolescents (n=204; 46.5% boys; 14.4±1.2 years) recruited at secondary schools in and around Ghent (city in Flanders, northern part of Belgium) were instructed to wear a Global Positioning System device in order to identify cycling trips. For all identified cycling trips, the shortest possible route that could have been taken was calculated. Actual cycling routes that were not the shortest possible cycling routes were divided into street segments. Segments were audited with a Google Street View-based tool to assess physical environmental characteristics along actual and shortest cycling routes. Results: Out of 160 actual cycling trips, 73.1% did not differ from the shortest possible cycling route. For actual cycling routes that were not the shortest cycling route, a speed limit of 30 km/h, roads having few buildings with windows on the street side and roads without cycle lane were more frequently present compared to the shortest possible cycling routes. A mixed land use, roads with commercial destinations, arterial roads, cycle lanes separated from traffic by white lines, small cycle lanes and cycle lanes covered by lighting were less frequently present along actual cycling routes compared to the shortest possible cycling routes. Conclusions: Results showed that distance mainly determines the route along which adolescents cycle. In addition, adolescents cycled more along residential streets (even if no cycle lane was present) and less along busy, arterial roads. Local authorities should provide shortcuts free from motorised traffic to meet adolescents' preference to cycle along the shortest route and to avoid cycling along arterial roads.