Public transit generates new physical activity

Miller HJ, Tribby CP, Brown BB, Smith KR, Werner CM, Wolf J, Wilson L, Oliveira MGS (2015) “Public transit generates new physical activity: Evidence from individual GPS and accelerometer data before and after light rail construction in a neighborhood of Salt Lake City, Utah, USA,” Health & Place, 26, 8-17. doi:10.1016/j.healthplace.2015.08.005


  • We track physical activity time before and after construction of a light rail line
  • Study participants wore accelerometers and GPS recorders
  • Changes in physical activity time relate directly to changes in transit use
  • No substitution of transit-related physical activity time for other activity time

Abstract: Poor health outcomes from insufficient physical activity (PA) are a persistent public health issue. Public transit is often promoted for positive influence on PA. Although there is cross-sectional evidence that transit users have higher PA levels, this may be coincidental or shifted from activities such as recreational walking. We use a quasi-experimental design to test if light rail transit (LRT) generated new PA in a neighborhood of Salt Lake City, Utah, USA. Participants (n=536) wore Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers and accelerometers before (2012) and after (2013) LRT construction. We test within-person differences in individuals’ PA time based on changes in transit usage pre- versus post-intervention. We map transit-related PA to detect spatial clustering of PA around the new transit stops. We analyze within-person differences in PA time based on daily transit use and estimate the effect of daily transit use on PA time controlling for socio-demographic variables. Results suggest that transit use directly generates new PA that is not shifted from other PA. This supports the public health benefits from new high quality public transit such as LRT.

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