The power of perceptions: Exploring the role of urban design in cycling behaviours and healthy ageing

Philip Black, Emma Street

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Good urban design has the power to aid in the provision of inclusive journey environments, yet traditionally neglects the perspective of the cyclist. This paper starts from the premise that more can be done to understand and articulate cyclists’ experiences and perceptions of the urban environment in which they cycle, as part of a closer linking of urban design qualities with transport planning and infrastructure interventions. This approach is particularly applicable in relation to older cyclists, a group whose needs are often poorly understood and for whom perceptions can significantly influence mobile behaviours. Currently, knowledge regarding the relationship between the built environment and physical activity, including cycling, in older adults is limited. As European countries face up to the challenges associated with ageing populations, some metropolitan regions, such as Munich, Germany, are making inroads into widening cycling's appeal across generations through a combination of urban design, policy and infrastructure initiatives. The paper provides a systematic understanding of the urban design qualities and built environment features that affect cycling participation and have the potential to contribute towards healthy ageing. Urban design features such as legibility, aesthetics, scale and open space have been shown to influence and affect other mobile behaviours (e.g. walking), but their role as a mediator in cycle behaviour remains under-explored. Many of these design ‘qualities’ are related to individual perceptions; capturing these can help build a picture of quality in the built environment that includes an individual's relationship with their local neighbourhood and its influences on their mobility choices. Issues of accessibility, facilities, and safety in cycling remain crucial, and, when allied to these design ‘qualities‘, provides a more rounded reflection of everyday journeys and trips taken or desired. The paper sets out the role that urban design might play in mediating these critical mobility issues, and in particular, in better understanding the ‘quality of the journey’. It concludes by highlighting the need for designers, policy makers, planners and academics to consider the role that design can play in encouraging cycle participation, especially as part of a healthy ageing agenda.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)68-79
JournalTransportation Research Procedia
Publication statusPublished - 25 Dec 2014


  • urban design
  • ageing
  • cycling
  • mobility


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