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A Brief History of the WABSA Project

The Walking and Bicycling Suitability Assessment (WABSA) Project was developed by Jim Emery MPH, Carolyn Crump PhD, and Phil Bors, MPH in 1998 with funding from the NC Cardiovascular Health Program. Our goal was to identify and/or develop methods that communities could use to assess the suitability of their local streets for walking and bicycling.

Walking Suitability.   Our literature review did not identify any suitability assessment methods for pedestrian (walking) environments. Over a two year period we developed and tested a method to assess the walking suitability of sidewalks. To read more detail about the development of our walking method, click here.

Bicycle Suitability.   We reviewed many methods for assessing bicycling suitability of roads. Through analysis we determined that one method was reliable and simple to use. Nils Eddy developed the method in the mid-1990s and it was published in the conference proceedings of the ProBike ProWalk 1996 conference in Philadelphia, PA. We've adapted the Eddy method for this project. To read more detail about the identification of the Eddy method, click here.

Related Publications

Here is a reliability and validity study of the WABSA methods: Emery, J., Crump, C., & Bors, P. (2003) Reliability and validity of two instruments designed to assess the walking and bicycling suitability of sidewalks and roads. American Journal of Health Promotion, 18 (1): 38-46.

Here is an example of a pilot program that applied the methods in two different communities in the United States: Emery J, Crump C & Hawkens M (2007). Formative evaluation of AARP's Active for Life campaign to improve walking and bicycling environments in two cities. Health Promotion Practice, 8 (4): 403-414.

Who has used WABSA?

Here are some organizations that have been using the WABSA Project to improve physical activity levels in their area of the country. Each of these projects took about one year from initial training on the WABSA methods through the early planning of improvements and advocacy strategies.

1) North Carolina Physical Activity and Nutrition Branch is part of the Division of Public Health within the Divison of Health and Human Services. They provide funding support, strategic planning, training and technical assistance throughout to local health departments and other partners who endeavor to increase physical activity and healthy eating (Eat Smart, Move More NC). They provide the WABSA tools within North Carolina as part of "Winning with ACES: How You Can Work Toward Active Community Environments."

2) Partners for Active Living , a non-profit organization in Spartanburg County, South Carolina, led a volunteer-based assessment project near lower income communities that rely on public transit. They provided extensive feedback on the methods and the coordination of volunteer-based assessment projects. The project mapped the assessment data and analyzed the maps to plan improvements and advocacy strategies.

3) In 2003-2004, AARP conducted an "Active for Life' pilot campaign in Richmond, VA and Madison, WI that would increase physical activity among midlife and older adults. Part of that campaign was designed to assess walkability in neighborhoods in the two cities. A team of us from UNC Department of Health Behavior and Health Education provided technical assistance, helped them use the WABSA methods, and conducted a formative evaluation of the environmental change activities (in press, Health Promotion Practice). Older adults in the East End community of Richmond, VA collaboratively assessed over 100 square blocks of a historic business and residential district. The assessment data were initially colorized on paper maps to help with quickly identifying major improvement areas. Later advocacy strategies helped gain the support of key elected officials and agency staff to start making the improvements. For example, the walkability between two elementary schools was quite poor, and city staff decided to make improvements and then continue the project throughout the city school system. In Madison, WI, citizens and professionals assessed the walkability of a large neighborhood and developed maps of places with good walkability.

(c) 2006-07 WABSA Project