Self-selection in the relationship between the built environment and walking: Empirical evidence from Northern California

Susan Handy, Xinyu Cao, Patricia L. Mokhtarian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

471 Scopus citations


Available evidence establishes correlations between the built environment and walking, but not a causal relationship, leading researchers to debate whether "self-selection explains the observed correlations: do residents who prefer to walk choose to live in more walkable neighborhoods? Using data from a survey of residents of eight neighborhoods in Northern California, this article presents new evidence on the possibility of a causal relationship between the built environment and walking behavior. This work improves on most previous studies by incorporating travel attitudes and neighborhood preferences into the analysis of walking behavior, and by using a quasi-longitudinal design to test the relationship between changes in the built environment and changes in walking. Both analyses show that the built environment has an impact on walking behavior even after accounting for attitudes and preferences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)55-74
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of the American Planning Association
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2006
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was conducted under a project funded by the California Department of Transportation and was supported by grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of California Transportation Center. Thanks to Ted Buehler, Gustavo Collantes, and Sam Shelton for their work on the implementation of the survey. Thanks also to our two anonymous reviewers and Marlon Boarnet, who provided many useful suggestions and insisted on analytical rigor; the final paper is much strengthened as a result.


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