Can Motorways Promote Active Travel?

Research Paper Title

Effects of New Motorway Infrastructure on Active Travel in the Local Population: A Retrospective Repeat Cross-Sectional Study in Glasgow, Scotland.


Promoting active travel is an important part of increasing population physical activity, which has both physical and mental health benefits. A key benefit described by the then Scottish Government of the five-mile M74 motorway extension, which opened during June 2011 in the south of Glasgow, was that the forecast reduction in motor traffic on local streets would make these streets safer for walking and cycling, thus increasing active travel by the local population. The aim of the study was to evaluate the impact of new motorway infrastructure on the proportion of journey stages made actively (cycling or on foot) by individuals travelling in and out of the local area.


Data for the periods 2009–10 and 2012–13 were extracted from the Scottish Household Survey (SHS) travel diaries, which record each journey stage made during the previous day by a representative sample of the Scottish population aged 16 and over. Each individual journey stage was assigned to one of the following study areas surrounding existing and new transport infrastructure:

  1. An area surrounding the new M74 motorway extension (n = 435 (2009–10), 543 (2012–13));
  2. A comparator area surrounding an existing motorway (n = 477 (2009–10), 560 (2012–13)); and
  3. A control area containing no comparable motorway infrastructure (n = 541 (2009–10), 593 (2012–13)).

Multivariable, multi-level regression analysis was performed to determine any between-area differences in change in active travel over time, which might indicate an intervention effect. Reference populations were defined using two alternative definitions, (1) Glasgow City and (2) Glasgow and surrounding local authorities.


The results showed an increase in the proportion of journey stages using active travel in all study areas compared to both reference populations. However, there were no significant between-area differences to suggest an effect attributable to the M74 motorway extension.


There was no clear evidence that the M74 motorway extension either increased or decreased active travel in the local area. The anticipation by policy makers that reduced motorised traffic on local streets might increase journeys walked or cycled appears to have been unfounded.

Personal Note

Prior to moving to Perth, Western Australia, in July 2016 I lived next to the M74 extension. Observationally, I suggest that the M74 made it easier for drivers (private and commercial) to access areas of Glasgow and the ‘old’ M74 system. Anyone who has used the M74 extension at rush-hour knows it gets very busy. It would seem that drivers have substituted local with the M74 extension.


Olsen, J.R., Mitchell, R., Ogilvie, D. and on behalf of the M74 Study Team (2016) Effects of New Motorway Infrastructure on Active Travel in the Local Population: A Retrospective Repeat Cross-Sectional Study in Glasgow, Scotland. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 13(77). DOI: 10.1186/s12966-016-0403-9.


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