Recently, numerous empirical studies have been published on utilitarian walking as a travel mode due to benefits of walking on physical and mental health, as well as its potential to decrease air pollution and traffic congestion and to promote sustainable urban development and social cohesion in neighborhoods.
Simultaneously, a number of conceptual frameworks have been proposed that focus on physical activity in general, active travel including walking and bicycling, or more specifically on children’s travel to school. Most of these frameworks are extensions of theories, including utility theory, the theory of planned behavior (TPB), or the social-ecological model. Substantial progress has been made towards the understanding of how a travel mode is chosen (by walking or not), especially the incorporation of psychological properties and multiple factors at multiple levels.
However, one major problem for most frameworks is the lack of dynamic processes by which the behavior (specifically, utilitarian walking), attitude and habit, and environment are directly or indirectly shaped. Another problem is that most frameworks, especially those based on social-ecological models, are not operation-oriented.
Our understanding of how an empirical intervention may increase utilitarian walking (and overall physical activity) is limited, and research on health behaviors has shown that interventions based on theoretical frameworks or theoretical constructs are more effective. Indeed, we need frameworks at the conceptual and operational levels to provide indications for theoretical research and policy interventions. Besides, theories may be complementary to each other, and we believe that the combination of various theories and frameworks, together with the accumulated evidence from empirical research, provide a knowledge foundation on which a more comprehensive framework could be based.