While Google Street View has been widely used to map the built environment, this new study was the first time Google Street View was employed to estimate travel patterns.

Lack of physical activity causes up to 3.2 million premature deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Getting people more physically active through cycling or walking is one way to address this problem.

Researchers on a recent study that aimed to understand urban travel patterns by analysing data on modes of transport used by people turned to big data sources such as Google Street View.

Led by scientists from the MRC Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge, the study used Google Street View images to predict walking and cycling among other travel patterns in cities.

Selecting a random sample of 34 British cities, the research team accessed and analysed 2,000 Google Street View images from 1,000 random locations in each of the 34 cities. After counting the number of pedestrians, parked cycles, cyclists, motorcycles, cars, buses and vans/trucks in each image, the researchers used data from the 2011 Census and 2010-2012 Active People Survey on levels of walking, cycling and other travel modes for comparison with the latest study.

Accoridng to Google, there was strong correlation between the Google Street View observations and levels of cycling, and public transport and motorbike use as reported by Census and the Active People Survey.