Article by Tania Martínez, research technician, and Ariadna Curto, predoctoral researcher, both from ISGlobal
“Hi, we’re looking for people to take part in a scientific study on how to improve transportation in Barcelona. Do you have a minute?” This was the opening line used by three researchers in ISGlobal’s TAPAS project to recruit volunteers at 40 points throughout Barcelona’s 10 districts over the course of 40 weeks.
On the left, distribution of the 40 sampling points, 4 points for each district of Barcelona. On the right, according to the population density of each neighborhood (expressed in number of inhabitants per square kilometer), in accordance with the addresses of the participants.
The purpose of TAPAS was to investigate the factors affecting which modes of transportation Barcelona residents use to commute to school or work
The purpose of TAPAS, which stands for Transportation, Air Pollution and Physical Activities, was to investigate the factors affecting which modes of transportation Barcelona residents use to commute to school or work.
Between June 2011 and May 2012, we approached 6,700 people on the streets of Barcelona and invited them to take part in this study. A total of 871 people agreed to participate by completing a 30-minute telephone survey that included questions about their physical activity, their choice of commute mode, and their perception of the environment along their route. Participants had to be adults aged between 18 and 65 years live in Barcelona, work or study in Barcelona, and be in good enough physical condition to ride a bicycle for 20 minutes.
871 people agreed to participate by completing a telephone survey that included questions about their physical activity, their choice of commute mode, and their perception of the environment along their route
We also excluded people who lived less than a 10-minute walk from their school or work as well as those who always commuted on foot. In order to analyse the effects of the introduction of Bicing, Barcelona’s popular bicycle-sharing system, we made sure that 50% of the interviewees were bike users (whether they used the public system or owned their own bike).
The following infographic summarises the characteristics of the participants:
After nearly three years of analysis, the data from the survey have produced four scientific articles published in high-profile journals on transportation and public health.
The data from the survey have produced four scientific articles published in high-profile journals on transportation and public health
One major finding was that Barcelona residents who ride a bike for their daily commute—one of the most frequent journeys a person can make—get two more hours of moderate physical activity per week than those who commute by public transport, car or motorcycle. The extra exercise involved in commuting by bike is nearly equal to the minimum amount of physical activity that national and international organisations—such as the American Heart Association and the World Health Organisation—recommend we need to get and stay healthy. They recommend 150 minutes of exercise distributed throughout the week (for example, 30 minutes a day on each weekday).
Barcelona residents who ride a bike for their daily commute get two more hours of moderate physical activity per week than those who commute by public transport, car or motorcycle
When we asked non-cyclist survey respondents about factors that could potentially encourage them to commute by bike, we found that they would more willing to consider this possibility if they had access to a Bicing station less than 400 metres away and more green spaces (trees, parks, etc.) along their route. The main factors that discouraged Barcelona residents from commuting by bike were having a public transport stop close to home and the prospect of having to cycle up steep streets.
Non-cyclist survey respondents would more willing to consider this possibility if they had access to a Bicing station less than 400 metres away and more green spaces along their route
We also studied the ways in which attitudes towards and perceptions of cycling in general and Bicing in particular varied depending on whether people used their own bike or a Bicing bike, and whether people were willing to commute by bike in addition to using other modes of transportation. Users of personal bicycles had the most positive attitude towards cycling—they consider it healthier, cheaper, more eco-friendly, more flexible and more enjoyable than other modes of transport—but less favourable opinions of Bicing due to the uncertainty of finding a bicycle or an open parking spot at a station. In contrast, people who were willing to commute by bike expressed a more positive attitude towards the Bicing system, citing the fact that they would not have to worry about maintenance, theft or vandalism. The study also found that one of the main barriers to the use of Bicing is the fact that the public bicycles cannot be used to carry children.
The survey also asked about economic incentives provided by local companies and universities to discourage the use of private vehicles. The study found that these incentives usually encourage the use of public transportation (e.g. covering the cost of multi-ride metro tickets) and therefore reduce the likelihood that a person will commute by bike by 11.6%.
Greater integration of bicycles could increase the number of cyclists in the city in the short term, thereby decreasing air pollution and noise
The TAPAS study has helped to highlight the important role that green spaces play in encouraging Barcelona residents to use bicycles for routine journeys and thus achieve healthy levels of physical activity. It has also shown that Barcelona’s bike-sharing system encourages people who would otherwise be unlikely to commute by bicycle to do so. Our study also suggests that public transport and cycling, rather than complementing one another, are in fact competitors in Barcelona. Although city-planning interventions and policies should not discourage the use of public transport, greater integration of bicycles could increase the number of cyclists in the city in the short term, thereby decreasing air pollution, noise, accidents and the number of vehicles occupying public space.
Scientific articles published with the data provided by the TAPAS survey:
T. Cole-Hunter, D. Donaire-Gonzaleza, A. Curto, A. Ambros, A. Valentin, J. Garcia-Aymerich, D. Martínez, L.M. Braun, M. Mendez, M. Jerrett, D. Rodriguez, A. de Nazelle, M. Nieuwenhuijsen. Objective correlates and determinants of bicycle commuting propensity in an urban environment. Science Direct. October 2015.
David Donaire-Gonzalez, Audrey de Nazelle, Tom Cole-Hunter, Ariadna Curto, Daniel A. Rodriguez, Michelle A. Mendez, Judith Garcia-Aymerich, Xavier Basagaña, Albert Ambros, Michael Jerrett, Mark J. Nieuwenhuijsen. The Added Benefit of Bicycle Commuting on the Regular Amount of Physical Activity Performed. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. December 2015.
A. Curto, A. de Nazelle, D. Donaire-Gonzalez, T. Cole-Hunter, J. Garcia-Aymerich, D. Martínez, E. Anaya, D. Rodríguez, M. Jerrett, M.J. Nieuwenhuijsen. Private and public modes of bicycle commuting: a perspective on attitude and perception. The European Journal of Public Health. January 2016.
Lindsay M. Brauna, Daniel A. Rodrigueza, Tom Cole-Hunter, Albert Ambros, David Donaire-Gonzalez, Michael Jerrett, Michelle A. Mendez, Mark J. Nieuwenhuijsen, Audrey de Nazelle. Short-term planning and policy interventions to promote cycling in urban centers: Findings from a commute mode choice analysis in Barcelona, Spain. July 2016.