Oxfordshire Active Travel

Evaluation Completed January 2023


Video presentation discussing the findings from the PHIRST evaluation of the Oxford Active Travel scheme.

What does the research mean for local Authorities?

Like many authorities Oxfordshire seek to encourage the use of active travel where possible. Key strategic priorities for Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) include addressing population health inequalities, and climate breakdown. Understanding the barriers to achieving modal shift (from car use to walking and/or cycling) for hard-to-engage target groups will support these priorities, and help to inform OCC’s development of the next iteration of local transport plans, as well as ongoing cycling and walking plans. The study will also address a current gap in research around encouraging active travel in smaller market towns (as opposed to large urban areas) which will be of interest to public health practitioners and researchers beyond OCC.


“Active Oxfordshire (a registered charity) works in partnership with Oxfordshire County Council on Active Travel measures. It is vital to evaluate these interventions to constantly improve provision for residents and working with PHIRST is key to enabling this to happen”

Josh Lenthall, Strategic CYP Relationship Manager, Active Oxfordshire

What does the evaluation research mean for the Public?

The study findings will help understand how residents of market towns can be better supported to use active travel methods (walking and cycling). This matters because active travel is associated with an increase in total physical activity, which is good for health and wellbeing. Active travel also contributes to a quieter environment, reduced traffic congestion and cleaner air. Research has shown that building new walking and cycling infrastructure in large urban areas can help improve population health and reduce inequalities. This study explores how this might also be achieved in market towns.

How are the public involved in the evaluation?

The study team held an online event in November 2021 during the development of the study protocol. The event was attended by a range of people living and working in Bicester and Witney (the two market towns that are the focus of the research), with knowledge of the local area and the Active Travel Initiative. This included staff from the district councils responsible for social prescribing, physical activity, and Health Walks; district and town councillors, the cycle champion and those working with community bike projects; and staff from OCC public health, active travel and transport teams. The logic model, research aims and objectives and proposed methodology for the study were discussed with participants and revised in response to their feedback.

Two key amendments were made as a result of that event. Firstly, the draft research aims and objectives were reframed to emphasise the identification of ways to support active travel (rather than simply identify barriers). Secondly, while the aim of this study is to support modal shift to active travel amongst commuters and older adults; feedback from our community stakeholder event indicated that the study should focus more widely than just those who never use active travel methods. The study now seeks to understand how to encourage people to start cycling or walking, or to cycle or walk more often.

After that, we recruited three residents of Witney and Bicester to form a public panel for the study. All of them are older adults or commuters. The panel helped develop our recruitment strategy, data collection tools (topic guides; questionnaires, information sheets). This made sure our research tools were relevant, inclusive, accessible and therefore more likely to elicit data that informed the research questions. 

Lay summary of research

Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) have recently implemented a programme of activities  to improve cycling and walking in the market towns of Bicester and Witney. These interventions include infrastructure improvements (such as changes to traffic flows, reduced traffic speeds and new infrastructure for walking and cycling), and a range of projects designed in partnership with local community groups to make it easier to cycle and walk more. These include bike libraries, pop-up bike maintenance clinics, guided walks and cycles, and other projects designed to encourage residents to walk or cycle rather than use the car. The overall aim of the programme is to reduce congestion, address environmental issues, and improve the health and wellbeing of people living in Witney and Bicester.

There has been a lot of research into how cycling and walking to work or other destinations can be encouraged in larger towns and cities. This study looks at how it can be encouraged in smaller market towns, which are locations that are under-researched. This is important because people living in market towns travel differently, they may have longer commutes to work, or less access to local shops and services. This research also focuses on two groups of people; those who commute to work at least three days a week, and older adults aged 65-75 years, as these are the groups that the local authority find harder to encourage to walk and cycle.

The study aims to understand how new cycling and walking infrastructure and community activation projects might support modal shift to active travel amongst commuters and older adults making within-town journeys in Witney and Bicester.

There are two target population groups of interest:

1. Older adults (65-75years) who live independently and never, or only occasionally, use active travel methods for local trips.

2. Working adults who commute to work at least three days per week who never, or occasionally, use active travel methods to commute to work.

Research objectives

1.     How do the target groups currently perceive their use of active travel?

2.     Do the intervention activities encourage active travel amongst the target groups?

3.     To what extent do the target groups prioritise the goals (motivation) described in the logic model? What other motivating factors might encourage active travel?

4.     What key steps or additional activities might be taken to increase modal shift and address the perceived barriers (opportunity, capability) to active travel methods? Are there gaps in the range of intervention functions?

The study is qualitative and collected data by holding focus groups with the residents of Witney and Bicester. The study team also recruited residents to participate in ‘go-along’ interviews where a researcher accompanied them on a walk or cycle in their neighbourhood and interviewed them about it afterwards. The study team will consulted with local public and third sector organisations that have expertise in this area.

Local Authority/Partner(s)

Rosie Rowe – Head of Healthy Place Shaping, Public Health Directorate, Oxfordshire County Council
DD: 01865 816413.

Josh Lenthall –  Active Oxfordshire, Marlborough House, 69 High Street, Kidlington OX5 2DN


PHIRST Insight Research Team

Professor Russ Jago, Tricia Jessiman, Dr. China Harrison.