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Open Access Research

Assessing the environmental characteristics of cycling routes to school: a study on the reliability and validity of a Google Street View-based audit

Griet Vanwolleghem1*, Delfien Van Dyck12, Fabian Ducheyne1, Ilse De Bourdeaudhuij1 and Greet Cardon1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Movement and Sport Sciences, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Ghent University, Watersportlaan 2, 9000 Ghent, Belgium

2 Research Foundation Flanders (FWO), Egmontstraat 5, 1000 Brussels, Belgium

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International Journal of Health Geographics 2014, 13:19  doi:10.1186/1476-072X-13-19

Published: 10 June 2014

Abstract

Background

Google Street View provides a valuable and efficient alternative to observe the physical environment compared to on-site fieldwork. However, studies on the use, reliability and validity of Google Street View in a cycling-to-school context are lacking. We aimed to study the intra-, inter-rater reliability and criterion validity of EGA-Cycling (Environmental Google Street View Based Audit - Cycling to school), a newly developed audit using Google Street View to assess the physical environment along cycling routes to school.

Methods

Parents (n = 52) of 11-to-12-year old Flemish children, who mostly cycled to school, completed a questionnaire and identified their child’s cycling route to school on a street map. Fifty cycling routes of 11-to-12-year olds were identified and physical environmental characteristics along the identified routes were rated with EGA-Cycling (5 subscales; 37 items), based on Google Street View. To assess reliability, two researchers performed the audit. Criterion validity of the audit was examined by comparing the ratings based on Google Street View with ratings through on-site assessments.

Results

Intra-rater reliability was high (kappa range 0.47-1.00). Large variations in the inter-rater reliability (kappa range -0.03-1.00) and criterion validity scores (kappa range -0.06-1.00) were reported, with acceptable inter-rater reliability values for 43% of all items and acceptable criterion validity for 54% of all items.

Conclusions

EGA-Cycling can be used to assess physical environmental characteristics along cycling routes to school. However, to assess the micro-environment specifically related to cycling, on-site assessments have to be added.

Keywords:
Google Street View; Active commuting to school; Cycling routes; Children; Physical environment