Where does active travel fit within local community narratives of mobility space and place?

Alec Biehl, Ying Chen, Karla Sanabria-Véaz, David Uttal, Amanda Stathopoulos*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Encouraging sustainable mobility patterns is at the forefront of policymaking at all scales of governance as the collective consciousness surrounding climate change continues to expand. Not every community, however, possesses the necessary economic or socio-cultural capital to encourage modal shifts away from private motorized vehicles towards active modes. The current literature on ‘soft’ policy emphasizes the importance of tailoring behavior change campaigns to individual or geographic context. Yet, there is a lack of insight and appropriate tools to promote active mobility and overcome transport disadvantage from the local community perspective. The current study investigates the promotion of walking and cycling adoption using a series of focus groups with local residents in two geographic communities, namely Chicago's (1) Humboldt Park neighborhood and (2) suburb of Evanston. The research centers on analysis of the verbal transcripts. The approach combines traditional qualitative discourse analysis with quantitative text-mining tools, namely topic modeling and sentiment analysis. The aim of the analysis is to uncover the local mobility culture, embedded norms and values associated with acceptance of active travel modes in different communities. The analysis uncovers that underserved populations within diverse communities view active mobility simultaneously as a necessity and as a symbol of privilege that is sometimes at odds with the local culture. Thereby, this research expands on the walking and cycling literature by providing novel insights regarding the perceived benefits of, and barriers to, equitable promotion of these modes. The mixed methods approach to analyzing community member discourses is translated into policy findings that are either tailored to local context or broadly applicable to curbing automobile dominance. Overall, residents of both Humboldt Park and Evanston envision a society in which multimodalism replaces car-centrism, but differences in the local physical and social environments would and should influence the manner in which overarching policy objectives are met.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)269-287
Number of pages19
JournalTransportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice
StatePublished - May 2019


  • Active transportation
  • Built environment
  • Focus groups
  • Sense of community
  • Sentiment analysis
  • Topic modeling
  • Well-being

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Transportation
  • Management Science and Operations Research


Dive into the research topics of 'Where does active travel fit within local community narratives of mobility space and place?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this