Biking or walking to work can be contagious; sort of a "keep up with the Joneses" situation, but in a much more positive way. Researchers out of Penn State looked at the social influences of what they call "active commuting," like biking or walking to work, and the results from their research are published in the July 2013 online edition of the American Journal of Health Behavior.
Key active commuting findings from the study, which was comprised of responses from 1,234 respondents in several mid-Atlantic stats, include:
- Married people are more likely to actively commute to work than non-married people
- Men biked or walked to work more often than women
- Individuals with a spouse or co-worker that actively commuted were positively influenced to make the same decision
- Just the perception that a spouse or co-worker would approve of active commuting (AC) had a positive influence on a worker's decision to actively commute
- People who were comfortable on a bike were more likely to actively commute
- People who had a shorter biking or walking time to work were also more likely to actively commute
In addition to the positive influencers, the researchers also looked at what would negatively influence the decision to bike or walk to work. Simple things like the lack of an on-street bike lane or off-street bike and walking paths negatively impacted active commuting. Additionally, terrain, weather, traffic volume and distance all negatively influenced one's decision to actively commute.
A quick look at Bicycling.com’s list of the top 50 bike-friendly cities in the United States shows that the mid-Atlantic region is very bike-friendly, which may have impacted the research. Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Arlington, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh all made the top 50 list. Only six West Coast cities made the list. Perhaps the more suburban nature of western cities leads to a less bike-friendly community.
I know that when I worked outside of the home, I wouldn’t even think twice about biking to work. This was during my pre-baby days when I was a bit of a fitness freak, so the 10-mile commute wasn’t what deterred me; the sheer lack of bicycle-friendly road infrastructure was the problem. Since that time, though, the city has focused more on implementing bike lanes and paths and now Phoenix is one of the top 50 bike-friendly cities. Whenever I’m in the downtown area I see people biking to work, even on a hot summer day.
"We have to look at the complete picture and look at individual thoughts and beliefs (about AC)," said Melissa Bopp assistant professor of kinesiology, Penn State. "This is a complex problem that we need to think about at multiple levels to address influences on behavior." (Source: Penn State)
A bike-friendly community and active commuting-friendly workplaces sound like the perfect combination to encourage commuters to ditch automated transportation and rely on their leg power, instead.