This is a post from Caroline Shaw and Marie Russell who are researchers at the University of Otago Wellington
Having high levels of walking and cycling for transport in our urban centres is a crucial component of having a sustainable, people-oriented, 21st century transport system. The benefits of active transport (walking and cycling in the context of this blog) are well-known.
Active transport is good for health, the environment and the economy (1-3). While we know that New Zealand cities need to do better in promoting cycling and walking, we don’t have any comprehensive way of evaluating cities, of assessing how well they are doing in comparison to each other and over time.
In this study, which is a baseline assessment, we have compared the six largest cities in New Zealand (Auckland, Tauranga, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin) for some of the key inputs to cycling and walking (levels of funding, policies and programmes, amount and type of cycling and walking infrastructure, and people working on these areas) and the outputs (who cycles and walks, how safe it is and how healthy the populations of each city are).
Some of the findings are from this report are:
- Walking is the most common form of active transport; however the proportion of trips taken using this mode ranges from 12 to 27% of journeys, depending on the city.
- Cities in New Zealand with higher levels of active transport (cycling and walking combined) tend to have populations with higher levels of physical activity and lower levels of physical activity-related health outcomes, such as high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes.
- In all cities studied, people who live in more deprived neighbourhoods are more likely to walk to work compared to people who live in less deprived neighbourhoods. However, for cycling to work, the association with deprivation varied by city.
- Cities in New Zealand with more rain, colder temperatures and higher wind speeds tended to have higher levels of walking and cycling.
- The number of city council staff working on cycling or walking issues ranges from 1.5 FTE/100 000 people (Christchurch) to 3.7FTE/100 000 people (Dunedin).
- Given the opportunity (i.e. no congestion) in all cities, except Wellington, half of people will drive above 50km/hr in an urban 50km/hr zone.
- Christchurch reports the highest levels of cycling infrastructure, with 231km of on-street cycle ways, however Tauranga and Hamilton also report 100km of on-street cycle lanes each. Physically separated cycle lanes remain rare in all cities, with Christchurch reporting the most at 5km (the survey was conducted in 2015, so this will have increased subsequently in some cities).
To obtain the information for the report we surveyed councils, collected information from council websites, and analysed information from the New Zealand Health Survey, the Household Travel Survey, the Census, and the Crash Analysis System. Our study was based, with their permission, on a successful series of reports undertaken in the USA by the Alliance for Biking and Walking. One of our aims was to find out how readily we could gather and analyse information on cycling, walking and health in the cities. It took much more work than we expected: customised data extraction was required to ensure standardised geographic boundaries. Data supplied by the city councils were sometimes unclear or incomplete. But this pilot study found that benchmarking is feasible, and laid the groundwork, with recommendations, for future benchmarking studies.
While this study had a number of interesting findings, one of the main benefits will be to repeat it regularly and show any changes that are happening over time, who is doing well (or not so well) at increasing walking and cycling in their city and what they are doing to achieve this.
We know, intuitively, from visiting or seeing cities where there are higher levels of cycling and walking, as well as from academic research, that what happens at a local level (as well as national) is important for cycling and walking levels (4-6). This report is the first attempt to try and systematically document the important components in determining cycling and walking levels in the largest New Zealand cities. We hope it will be useful for advocates, policy makers, researchers and planners as they embark on the necessary project of transforming our cities.
- Macmillan A, Connor J, Witten K, Kearns R, Rees D, Woodward A. The societal costs and benefits of commuter bicycling: simulating the effects of specific policies using system dynamics modeling. Environ Health Perspect 2014; 122(4): 335-44.
- Woodcock J, Edwards P, Tonne C, et al. Public health benefits of strategies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions: urban land transport. Lancet 2009; 374(9705): 1930-43.
- New Zealand Transport Agency. Benefits of investing in cycling in New Zealand communities. Wellington: New Zealand Transport Agency, 2016.
- Keall M, Chapman R, Howden-Chapman P, Witten K, Abrahamse W, Woodward A. Increasing active travel: results of a quasi-experimental study of an intervention to encourage walking and cycling. J Epidemiol Community Health 2015; 69(12): 1184-90.
- Goodman A, Panter J, Sharp SJ, Ogilvie D. Effectiveness and equity impacts of town-wide cycling initiatives in England: a longitudinal, controlled natural experimental study. Soc Sci Med 2013; 97: 228-37.
- Goodman A, Sahlqvist S, Ogilvie D. New walking and cycling routes and increased physical activity: one- and 2-year findings from the UK iConnect study. Am J Public Health 2014; 104.
Editor note: I suspect this report will ultimately be quite useful in helping to show the impact of the government’s urban cycleway programme.