Walking (and cycling) to well-being: Modal and other determinants of subjective well-being during the commute

Key takeaway:

  • People with active commutes experienced better health, confidence, and positive affect. Cycling commuters experienced less security and more distress and fear than walking commuters. 
  • In spite of this, active travel is overall better than not commuting actively for one’s physical, mental, and emotional health and well-being. 


  • Travel well-being is measured by eight domains: distress, fear, attentiveness, enjoyment, security, autonomy, confidence, and health.
  • Satisfaction with travel is measured using nine indicators; trip enjoyment, smoothness of trip, worst/best trip imagined, confidence in arriving on time, level of distress or contentedness, level of tenseness or relaxedness, level of sadness or happiness, feeling tired or energized, and level of boredom.
  • Walking and cycling commuters experienced greater enjoyment and feelings of physical and mental health compared to those who commuted via public transit and automobile.
  • Physical activity seems to be more highly valued by those who commuted via walking and cycling.
  • Active commuters, particularly those who cycled, reported higher levels of confidence. However, cycling commuters also experienced more concerns over traffic safety (from fear of collision and injury).
  • Public transit commuters experienced low levels of autonomy, perhaps due to feelings of being captive to a schedule, route, or operator with little flexibility.
  • One notable finding is that women consistently reported lower levels of positive affect, health, and overall well-being from the commute. This could reflect societal gender roles in household responsibilities and divisions of labor, gender issues associated with residential location choice, gender differences over safety concerns while commuting.
  • Another notable finding is that people of color experienced more travel fear, which raises potential equity issues. This may be because monetary constraints force people of color to live in less safe neighborhoods with fewer transport options, communities of color bear a disproportionate burden of unsafe roadways and traffic dangers, and people of color fear victimization or discrimination by law enforcement.
  • Interventions aimed at increasing walking and cycling – including engineering interventions like protected cycle lanes or safer street crossings and encouragement initiatives to promote active travel – could significantly increase travel well-being and emotionally-positive commuting experiences.



  • Active commutes can offer benefits in the form of increased confidence, better physical and mental health, and greater satisfaction with and enjoyment of the commute.
  • The high levels of fear experienced by cycling commuters supports existing research that to better infrastructure (i.e., protected cycle lanes) is necessary to increase cycling and to make cycling safer for those who already do it.
  • The gender gap and racial disparities in reported travel well-being warrant further research and appropriate interventions to improve public health outcomes.



  • The author administered a 30-minute online survey to around 700 commuting adults in Portland, OR and analyzed results via structural equation modelling.


Singleton, P. (2018). Walking (and cycling) to well-being: Modal and other determinants of subjective well-being during the commute. Travel Behaviour and Society, Article in press.

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