A systematic review of the effect of infrastructural interventions to promote cycling: strengthening causal inference from observational data.
The international journal of behavioral nutrition and physical activity 2019 ; 16: 93.
PubMed ID : 31655609
PMCID : PMC6815350
Previous reviews have suggested that infrastructural interventions can be effective in promoting cycling. Given inherent methodological complexities in the evaluation of such changes, it is important to understand whether study results obtained depend on the study design and methods used, and to describe the implications of the methods used for causality. The aims of this systematic review were to summarize the effects obtained in studies that used a wide range of study designs to assess the effects of infrastructural interventions on cycling and physical activity, and whether the effects varied by study design, data collection methods, or statistical approaches.
Six databases were searched for studies that evaluated infrastructural interventions to promote cycling in adult populations, such as the opening of cycling lanes, or the expansion of a city-wide cycling network. Controlled and uncontrolled studies that presented data before and after the intervention were included. No language or date restrictions were applied. Data was extracted for any outcome presented (e.g. bikes counted on the new infrastructure, making a bike trip, cycling frequency, cycling duration), and for any purpose of cycling (e.g. total cycling, recreational cycling, cycling for commuting). Data for physical activity outcomes and equity effects was extracted, and quality assessment was conducted following previous methodologies and the UK Medical Research Council guidance on natural experiments. The PROGRESS-Plus framework was used to describe the impact on subgroups of the population. Studies were categorized by outcome, i.e. changes in cycling behavior, or usage of the cycling infrastructure. The relative change was calculated to derive a common outcome across various metrics and cycling purposes. The median relative change was presented to evaluate whether effects differed by methodological aspects.
The review included 31 studies and all were conducted within urban areas in high-income countries. Most of the evaluations found changes in favor of the intervention, showing that the number of cyclists using the facilities increased (median relative change compared to baseline: 62%; range: 4 to 438%), and to a lesser extent that cycling behavior increased (median relative change compared to baseline: 22%; range: - 21 to 262%). Studies that tested for statistical significance and studies that used subjective measurement methods (such as surveys and direct observations of cyclists) found larger changes than those that did not perform statistical tests, and those that used objective measurement methods (such as GPS and accelerometers, and automatic counting stations). Seven studies provided information on changes of physical activity behaviors, and findings were mixed. Three studies tested for equity effects following the opening of cycling infrastructure.
Study findings of natural experiments evaluating infrastructural interventions to promote cycling depended on the methods used and the approach to analysis. Studies measuring cycling behavior were more likely to assess actual behavioral change that is most relevant for population health, as compared to studies that measured the use of cycling infrastructure. Triangulation of methods is warranted to overcome potential issues that one may encounter when evaluating environmental changes within the built environment.
The protocol of this study was registered at PROSPERO (CRD42018091079).