Can virtual streetscape audits reliably replace physical streetscape audits?

J Urban Health. 2010 Dec;87(6):1007-16. doi: 10.1007/s11524-010-9505-x.


There is increasing recognition that the neighborhood-built environment influences health outcomes, such as physical activity behaviors, and technological advancements now provide opportunities to examine the neighborhood streetscape remotely. Accordingly, the aims of this methodological study are to: (1) compare the efficiencies of physically and virtually conducting a streetscape audit within the neighborhood context, and (2) assess the level of agreement between the physical (criterion) and virtual (test) audits. Built environment attributes associated with walking and cycling were audited using the New Zealand Systematic Pedestrian and Cycling Environment Scan (NZ-SPACES) in 48 street segments drawn from four neighborhoods in Auckland, New Zealand. Audits were conducted physically (on-site) and remotely (using Google Street View) in January and February 2010. Time taken to complete the audits, travel mileage, and Internet bandwidth used were also measured. It was quicker to conduct the virtual audits when compared with the physical audits (χ = 115.3 min (virtual), χ = 148.5 min (physical)). In the majority of cases, the physical and virtual audits were within the acceptable levels of agreement (ICC ≥ 0.70) for the variables being assessed. The methodological implication of this study is that Google Street View is a potentially valuable data source for measuring the contextual features of neighborhood streets that likely impact on health outcomes. Overall, Google Street View provided a resource-efficient and reliable alternative to physically auditing the attributes of neighborhood streetscapes associated with walking and cycling. Supplementary data derived from other sources (e.g., Geographical Information Systems) could be used to assess the less reliable streetscape variables.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Attitude
  • Bicycling / physiology
  • Bicycling / psychology*
  • Delphi Technique
  • Environment Design / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • New Zealand
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Residence Characteristics / statistics & numerical data*
  • User-Computer Interface*
  • Walking / physiology
  • Walking / psychology*