What helps and what hinders the independent mobility of non-driving teens
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Independent travel on the part of young teens has seen a dramatic drop over the past 30 years. Pre-driving teens are increasingly reaching destinations via an automobile typically driven by parents or adults instead of by bicycle and walking. This phenomenon is one factor contributing to substantial growth in non-work auto travel (leading to traffic congestion) and it is further associated with less independent and physical activity on the part of young teens (potentially leading to ill-health). Using in-depth interviews combined with a travel diary specifically developed for the thirteen-, fourteen-, and fifteen-year-old cohort, this research seeks to understand the decline in independent travel and what facilitates and prevents young teens from traveling independently. The travel diary was administered to 31 young teens in the Austin, Texas area and those respondents subsequently were interviewed to interpret and expand upon the diary information. Results of the interviews suggest a complex web of factors influencing the travel behavior of young teens. Besides lack of desirable destinations, teens faced physical barriers such as streets without continuous sidewalks, steep hills, and long distances on vi unshaded streets. But parental and peer influence were also found to be significant in shaping travel preferences and behaviors. Parents directly shape teen travel through what they allow and forbid their children to do and the example they set by the modes they use. Teens find reliance on chauffeured trips to school and other destinations to be convenient and socially reinforced by peers. This exploratory effort contributes to a better understanding of the preferences and constraints that are shaping teen travel behavior and adult non-work trips. The teenoriented travel diary developed for this research can be easily used in a larger quantitative study that would enable researcher to learn more about the travel of this important group. However, the results of this dissertation research suggest factors beyond those traditionally addressed in transportation planning are influential, therefore, future research should examine the nature of parental influence on the independent travel of young teens as well as how specific elements of the built environment may influence independent travel.