Framing Active School Travel in Ontario: A Content Analysis

Lecture / Panel
For NYU Community


NYU CUSP is pleased to host our annual Research Seminar Series, featuring leading voices in the growing field of urban informatics. The seminars will examine real-world challenges facing cities and urban environments around the world, with topics ranging from citizen and social sciences to smart infrastructure.

Today's topic:

Active school travel (AST) has been increasingly encouraged by various stakeholders in Ontario, Canada through efforts such as school travel planning. Education strategies like workshops or resources that promote AST are commonly implemented. The framing of AST through such strategies may influence how walking and bicycling to school are perceived by parents. It may also draw attention to AST as an issue affecting children’s health which could motivate behavior change. We used natural language processing, including topic modeling, to examine how AST is framed in publicly available documents from Ontario stakeholders involved in school travel planning. We then compared the findings from these documents to a selection of studies on AST and explored similarities between the two. We found that AST is framed in two ways: i) as a health and environmental issue; and ii) as an accessible and feasible transport option for children and parents. The frames encourage children and parents to adopt AST given its health and environmental benefits by providing resources to support behavior change. The benefits of AST and strategies to support AST that are communicated by stakeholders are consistent with the evidence from academic research. While these frames present AST in a positive light, they may not encourage parents to view current household travel behaviors as unhealthy for their children or their community. Stakeholders promoting AST in Ontario should further problematize the decline of AST and challenge the norm of driving children to school.

About the speaker:

Antonio Páez is a Professor in the School of Earth, Environment and Society at McMaster University. He trained as a civil engineer and upon joining McMaster was adopted into geography as his home discipline. Now he specializes in spatial data analysis, discrete choice modeling, transportation systems, accessibility, and urban and health geography. He is listed as author or co-author in more than 130 peer reviewed articles in international academic journals, and also recently released his co-authored book Discrete Choice Analysis with R. He has long standing interests in languages, science, science fiction, fantasy, and art. He lives in Hamilton, Ontario, where the summers are short but hot.