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Assessing Walking and Cycling Environments in the Streets of Madrid: Comparing On-Field and Virtual Audits


Audit tools are useful for exploring the urban environment and its association with physical activity. Virtual auditing options are becoming increasingly available potentially reducing the resources needed to conduct these assessments. Only a few studies have explored the use of virtual audit tools. Our objective is to test if the Madrid Systematic Pedestrian and Cycling Environment Scan (M-SPACES) discriminates between areas with different urban forms and to validate virtual street auditing using M-SPACES. Three areas (N = 500 street segments) were selected for variation in population density. M-SPACES was used to audit street segments physically and virtually (Google Street View) by two researchers in 2013–2014. For both physical and virtual audits, all analyzed features score significantly different by area (p < 0.05). Most of the features showed substantial (ICC = 0.6–0.8) or almost perfect (ICC ≥ 0.8) agreement between virtual and physical audits, especially neighborhood permeability walking infrastructure, traffic safety, streetscape aesthetics, and destinations. Intra-rater agreement was generally acceptable (ICC > 0.6). Inter-rater agreement was generally poor (ICC < 0.4). Virtual auditing provides a valid and feasible way of measuring residential urban environments. Comprehensive auditor training may be needed to guarantee good inter-rater agreement.

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Cardiovascular diseases


Google Street View


Systematic Pedestrian and Cycling Environmental Scan


New Zealand Systematic Pedestrian and Cycling Environmental Scan


Madrid Systematic Pedestrian and Cycling Environmental Scan


Heart Healthy Hoods


Intraclass correlation coefficient


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We would like to thank Carlos Martínez de la Serna, for his collaboration and ideas at the early stages of the study. This study was supported by the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP/2007–2013)/ERC Starting Grant HeartHealthyHoods Agreement no. 336893. Usama Bilal was supported by a La Caixa Fellowship (2012 edition) and by the Enrique Nájera grant for Young Epidemiologists (10th edition) awarded by the Sociedad Española de Epidemiología and the Escuela Nacional de Sanidad. HB is supported by the NHMRC Centre for Excellence in Healthy Liveable Communities (no. 1061404) and the Australian Prevention Partnership Centre (TAPPC) (the latter is supported by NHMRC, ACT Health, NSW Health, the Australian National Preventive Health Agency (ANPHA), the Hospitals Contribution Fund of Australia (HCF), and the HCF Research Foundation).

Authors’ Contributions

MF, UB, and JD conceived the research idea. PG and HB contributed to the final design. PG and SA conducted data collection. FE and AC organized the database and prepared all the maps. PG conducted the statistical analysis. PG, HB, SA, FE, AC, JD, and MF reviewed and worked in the interpretation of the results. The first draft of the manuscript was prepared by PG and MF and reviewed by all authors. All authors have contributed and approved the final report.

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Correspondence to Manuel Franco.

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Gullón, P., Badland, H.M., Alfayate, S. et al. Assessing Walking and Cycling Environments in the Streets of Madrid: Comparing On-Field and Virtual Audits. J Urban Health 92, 923–939 (2015).

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  • Physical activity
  • Validation studies
  • Urban environment
  • Omnidirectional image
  • Virtual image