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Study spotlight: supporting research into walking and cycling improvements

In this article, we explain how the NIHR is supporting public health research in local authorities to empower people to live more healthy, fulfilling lives. For more information about how to get involved in delivering NHS, public health and social care research visit the NIHR website.

We are working with The University of Bristol and Oxfordshire County Council to evaluate the impact of transport improvements in Witney and Bicester through the Active Travel Oxfordshire programme.

The study is seeking views from residents about the changes, designed to make walking and cycling easier including shared-use footway and cycleways, better signage and reduced speed limits.

While getting people to walk and cycle in cities is well-researched, less research has been undertaken in market towns. It is hoped the study will support council transport leaders to plan improvements in market towns.

We’re helping to find commuters who use the routes to get to work and those aged 65 to 75 to attend a focus group to discuss the changes and whether further transport plans would encourage them to walk and cycle more.

University of Bristol researchers are also accompanying residents on their local journeys with a follow-up interview, later in the year. There will also be another meeting in Witney and Bicester to share early study findings.

Tricia Jessiman, the study’s lead researcher, said: “A lot of research has been done on how to encourage walking and cycling in cities and large towns, but very little is known about market towns. I hope this study will help inform how to make it easier for residents in Witney and Bicester to choose to walk or cycle as a viable alternative to the car.”

Councillor Andrew Gant, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Highway Management, said: “We know that infrastructure improvements are essential to promoting active travel, but people face many other barriers to cycling and walking. This study provides an important opportunity for local people to explain in detail what would make a difference to them and it will help Oxfordshire County Council to improve the support we offer and the network changes we deliver.”

The study is funded by the NIHR Public Health Intervention Responsive Studies Teams (PHIRST) scheme which evaluates practical interventions to improve public health decision making.

For more information about how to get involved in delivering NHS, public health and social care research visit the NIHR website.