An Environmental Intervention to Promote Walking and Cycling—The Impact of a Newly Constructed Rail Trail in Western Sydney

Benefits studied:
Uses studied: ,
Place: Sydney


This study found that a marketing campaign to promote the opening of a new rail trail in Sydney, Australia did little to increase awareness of the trail or increase trail use in the general population. However, it was effective in raising awareness of those who lived closest to the trail.


This study would be of interest to those looking for ways to increase community awareness and use of trails. Findings suggest that a more targeted outreach approach, focusing on specific user groups and those living closest to the trail rather than a broad-scale campaign, may be the most cost-effective marketing strategy.


The study is based in Sydney, Australia, population 4.39 million in 2011.

Trail Type

This study analyzed the Rail Trail, a 16.5-kilometer rail trail on the western edge of Sydney.


The purpose of this study is to identify how well a marketing campaign to promote the Rail Trail affected awareness of the trail, changes in trail use, and changes in physical activity. This study was conducted by academic and agency researchers; no funding source was mentioned.


The promotional campaign began after the trail opened in December, 2000, and lasted approximately three months. It promoted recreational and health benefits from using the trail. There were ads with maps placed in local newspapers and 17,000 color brochures were distributed through organizations, work places, high schools, and the Department of Motor Vehicles.

  • The promotional campaign was most effective at raising awareness for those who lived within 1.5km of the trail.
  • Awareness of the trail among respondents increased by 3 percent after the promotional campaign, although two-thirds of the population remained unaware of the trail.
  • Trail use increased by 4 percent after the promotional campaign, although only 6 percent of respondents used the trail.
  • Of those respondents who were aware of the trail, only 16 percent had used it.
  • Cyclists who lived closest to the trail (within 1.5 km) were three times more likely to be aware of the trail than cyclists who lived 1.5-5km away.
  • In terms of time spent walking or cycling, the authors did not find evidence for increased physical activity.


To evaluate health effects, the authors surveyed a random sample of residents living within five kilometers of the trail before and after the promotional campaign began. Of the 568 respondents who completed the initial interview, 450 completed the second. Participants were between ages 18 and 55, able to complete the survey in English, and, if they lived 1.5-5 kilometers from the trail had access to and had ridden a bicycle in the previous 12 months. The same participants were contacted before and after the trail opened. The phone survey included questions about walking and cycling patterns, projected short-term activity level, awareness of the promotional campaign, and awareness of the new trail. After the campaign, respondents were asked questions about barriers to using the trail, purpose for trail use, and likelihood of future use.

The authors used statistical analysis to compare the physical activity and trail awareness of those who were aware of the promotional campaign and those who were not.

The authors also installed automated bike counters at four locations along the trail to determine usage patterns.


Merom, D., A. Bauman, P. Vita, and G. Close. 2003. “An Environmental Intervention to Promote Walking and Cycling—The Impact of a Newly Constructed Rail Trail in Western Sydney.” Preventive Medicine, 36(2): 235-242.