PROGRESS IN GEOGRAPHY ›› 2019, Vol. 38 ›› Issue (6): 807-817.doi: 10.18306/dlkxjz.2019.06.002

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Effects of the built environment on pedestrian communing to work and school: The Hong Kong case, China

Jixiang LIU1(), Jiangping ZHOU1, Longzhu XIAO2,*(), Linchuan YANG1   

  1. 1. Faculty of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong 999077, China
    2. College of Engineering, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong 999077, China
  • Received:2018-10-18 Revised:2019-03-21 Online:2019-06-28 Published:2019-06-27
  • Contact: Longzhu XIAO;
  • Supported by:
    Seed Fund for Basic Research, the University of Hong Kong, No. 201711159217.


Walking is not only an important and convenient travel mode but also a primary component of physical activities. However, in the modern era that is characterized by fast pace of living, urban people, especially those facing relatively intense time constraints such as office workers and students, tend to walk increasingly less. This has led to a reduced level of physical activity and partially resulted in widespread prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as obesity and diabetes. There have been many studies in the Western contexts confirming the significant impacts of the built environment (usually depicted by the 3D or 5D model) on walking. However, existing research is incomplete in the following two aspects: on the one hand, the current conclusions have been mainly based on the Western contexts, and therefore their applicability in cities of rapidly developing countries such as China is understudied. On the other hand, different population subgroups—for example, office workers and students—are featured with different lifestyles and habits. Thus, a research question arises: does the built environment affect their walking behavior in the same manner with regard to direction and magnitude? To address the aforementioned research gaps, this study examined and compared the impacts of the built environment on office workers' and students' pedestrian commuting in Hong Kong. Multivariate linear regression models and spatial econometric models were employed based on the 2011 Hong Kong Census data, Hong Kong Tertiary Planning Units (TPU) data, Open Street Map data, and CentaMap data. We found that: 1) Commuting distance is the strongest determinant of office workers' or students' probability of walking to workplaces or schools. 2) The associations between the built environment in Hong Kong (delineated by the 5D model, namely, density, diversity, design, destination accessibility, and distance to transit) and pedestrian commuting behavior of office workers and students are different from those in the Western contexts. For example, distance to transit is widely confirmed to significantly impact people's walking in Western countries. However, the variable is insignificantly associated with workers' or students' propensity of pedestrian commuting in Hong Kong. 3) There are apparent differences between the effects of the built environment on pedestrian commuting propensity of office workers and students. For example, population density is associated with office workers' and students' propensity of pedestrian commuting negatively and positively, respectively. This study highlights the importance of contexts and population differentiation in the built environment-travel behavior association research. Geographers, urban planners, public policy practitioners, and policymakers can draw on the findings of this study to make more informed and targeted interventions to mitigate physical inactivity for certain population groups. Further study can pay more attention to 1) impacts of the built environment surrounding a workplace/school and/or those of routes from home to workplace/school on pedestrian commuting behavior; and 2) the increasing differences between the built environment of Hong Kong and cities in the mainland of China and the underlying mechanisms of variation.

Key words: built environment, pedestrian commuting, office worker, student, transit-dependent city, Hong Kong