Build it and they will walk: the suburbs that foster good health

Jason Dowling  |  City Editor for The Age

If you design suburbs so walking to public transport, shops and parks is an easy option, people will walk – that is the simple and clear finding of long-term Australian research.

urban sprawl

Health and planning experts are urging governments to make health a feature of planning laws and city growth strategies.

Researchers monitored the amount of walking by more than 1400 people building homes in new developments in Perth. Readings were taken before moving in and about 12 months later.

The results, published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, showed transport-related walking declined and recreational walking increased.

Read the full story here

Jason Roberts, Co-Founder, Better Block to speak at 2013 Liveable Cities Conference in Melbourne

Jason Roberts, Co-Founder, Better Block has been featured in the Washington Post and New York Times, and was recently awarded an American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) Award. Team Better Block was showcased in the US Pavillion at the 2012 Venice Biennale (the ‘Architect’s Olympics’).

Jason has over fifteen years of experience in IT consulting and Communications. Before founding the Better Block project, Jason Roberts led multiple community non-profit organizations focused on alternative transportation including the Oak Cliff Transit Authority, and Bike Friendly Oak Cliff. In 2010, Jason spearheaded the City of Dallas’s effort in garnering a $23 Million dollar TIGER stimulus grant from the FTA to help reintroduce a modern streetcar system to the region. In the Spring of 2010, Jason organised a series of “Better Block” projects, taking blighted blocks with vacant properties in Southern Dallas and converting them into temporary walkable districts with pop-up businesses, bike lanes, cafe seating, and landscaping. The project is now being duplicated throughout the country.

You can watch Jason’s TEDx address here:

Two Conferences! Three Days! One Location in 2013

6th Making Cities Liveable Conference, in conjunction with the Sustainable Transformation Conference, is being held from the 17th – 19th June 2013 at Novotel Melbourne St Kilda. The collaboration brings together National, State and Regional delegates to explore, exchange ideas and network.

The joint conference will be a platform for Government, Industry sector professionals and Academics to discuss causes, effects and solutions. Delegates will have access to an extensive range of topics with over 90 presentations across three days including Keynotes, Concurrent Sessions, Case Studies and Posters. www.healthycities.com.au

Review of public health and productivity benefits from different urban transport and related land use options in Australia.

Concurrent Sessions

The relationship between public health, urban forms and transportation options in Australia is examined through a review aimed at determining possible health indicators to be used in assessing future land use and transportation scenarios.

The health benefits, and subsequent economic benefits of walkable, transit orientated urban forms are well established and are measurable. Important health indicators include vehicle miles travelled, access to public transport, access to green areas, transportation related air pollution levels, transportation related noise levels, density and mixed land use.

A comparison between a high walkability urban environment and a low walkability urban environment identifies various infrastructure, transportation greenhouse gas emissions and health costs. From this it is determined that infrastructure and transport costs dominate, health costs are relatively small and that health-related productivity gains associated with highly walkable urban areas are substantial.

This review provides heath and economic rationale for developing urban forms geared towards active travel.

You can download the full paper here.  It was presented at The 5th Healthy Cities: Working Together to Achieve Liveable Cities Conference, Geelong – 2012

Two Conferences! Three Days! One Location in 2013

6th Making Cities Liveable Conference, in conjunction with the Sustainable Transformation Conference, is being held from the 17th – 19th June 2013 at Novotel Melbourne St Kilda. The collaboration brings together National, State and Regional delegates to explore, exchange ideas and network.

The joint conference will be a platform for Government, Industry sector professionals and Academics to discuss causes, effects and solutions. Delegates will have access to an extensive range of topics with over 90 presentations across three days including Keynotes, Concurrent Sessions, Case Studies and Posters. www.healthycities.com.au

3 reasons why Copenhagen is the world leader in urban sustainability

By Chris Turner in  Mother Nature Network

The buzz from Copenhagen is all about its new ‘superhighway’ for bikes. The real secret to its pioneering urban design, though, is that it puts people first on all its streets.

Cyclists pedal past a digital sign counting biking traffic over a bridge in downtown Copenhagen

As the New York Times reported with much praise – and unprecedented levels of RTing, if my Twitter stream is any indication – the city of Copenhagen continues to set the global pace for urban sustainability, particularly as regards two-wheeled, self-propelled transportation. But as is too often the case when the Times picks up on a story I started reporting three years ago (I’m not getting rich at this gig, so at least let me humblebrag), the paper’s coverage of Copenhagen’s bike-driven transportation revolution goes for flash and novelty over substance. Allow me to explain, in listicle fashion.

Herewith, the three key reasons why Copenhagen is the global model for sustainable urban transport, in ascending order of importance:

1. Bicycle Superhighway!
This, of course, is the piece of the puzzle the Times chose to focus on, because no headline writer in the history of journalism has ever passed up an opportunity to use the term superhighway. As the Times reports, the city of Copenhagen has launched the first of 26 planned suburban commuter arteries built exclusively for bicycles: long, well-paved, carefully maintained bike paths to link its suburbs with the inner city, up to 14 miles long and requiring the cooperation of 21 separate municipal governments.

These are the numbers the Times reports. Remarkably, the story makes no mention of the extraordinary figure for cycling’s modal share in Copenhagen, so I will: fully 37 percent of Copenhagen residents — and 55 percent of downtown dwellers — use bikes as their primary mode of transportation. Which points to another key Copenhagen innovation .

Read the  full story here

Seeing the Train as a ‘Mobile Office’

by Eric Jaffe who is a contributing writer to The Atlantic Cities and the author of The King’s Best Highway: The Lost History of the Boston Post Road, the Route That Made America.

The Mobile OfficeIf you’re evaluating a commute or an intercity work trip on travel time alone, the train doesn’t always look so great. Annoying as traffic can be, driving is usually quicker from home door to office desk. And while it can take a while to reach an airport, once you’re en route nothing travels faster than a plane.

But not all travel time is created equal. When it comes to productivity in transit, for instance, the train bests its alternatives beyond a doubt. You can’t even begin to consider working as you drive (that is, unless you’re part of an automated “road train”). And airplane travel, with its limited use of electronics and generally disruptive procedure, isn’t very conducive to prolonged focus.

The underrated importance of being able to work on the train is underscored in an upcoming report from the journal Transportation. In it Norweigian researchers Mattias Gripsrud and Randi Hjorthol of the Institute of Transport Economics, in Oslo, argue that how we use our travel time — as opposed to travel time alone — should be factored into any cost-benefit assessment of a transport mode.

Gripsrud and Hjorthol argue that especially today, with the ability to work from anywhere expanded by information and communication technology (I.C.T.), train travel in particular has shifted from “dead time” to productive time:

Read the full article here

Cutting cycling funding is economic non-sense

Jan Garrard, Senior Lecturer, School of Health & Social Development at Deakin University
Speaks @ The Conversation

In the current climate of economic uncertainty and fiscal restraint, governments are quick to reassure us that they are making every effort to “do more with less”. Providing mobility for citizens in Australia’s rapidly growing cities is a key public policy goal. When faced with alternative transport options, sensible governments will invest in measures that achieve maximum benefits for the least cost, right? Well, um, maybe.

In fact, governments of all persuasions in Australia have been slow to align transport policies with comprehensive assessments of the benefits and costs of alternative transport modes. A recent example of this mismatch is the Victorian Government’s decision to stop funding the VicRoads Bicycle Program. Funding for the program (which averaged $15 million a year over the last three years) has effectively been abolished.

A recent review of 16 economic valuations of transport infrastructure or policies reported a median benefit-cost ratio (BCR) of five for walking and cycling projects (that is, you get five dollars in benefits for every dollar spent). Based on this finding, reducing funding for bicycle infrastructure in Victoria from $15 million to zero means that the Victorian Government is, in all likelihood, foregoing an estimated $75 million in benefits.

To add insult to economic injury, the government plans to provide further subsidies for motor vehicle travel. In contrast to the favourable BCRs for bicycle infrastructure, many road construction projects struggle to break even. For some projects, the costs outweigh the benefits. Sir Rod Eddington’s 2008 report ‘Investing in Transport’, included an assessment of the economic benefits and costs of a proposed East-West road tunnel across inner Melbourne. The BCR for the road tunnel, which is expected to cost several billion dollars, was less than 0.7; that is, a net cost. Furthermore, the Victorian Government is now asking the Australian public (via Infrastructure Australia) for $30 million to develop a plan to construct this financial black hole.

The reasons for the large disparities in BCRs for bicycle infrastructure compared with road infrastructure are not difficult to unpack. In transport terms, it is hard to beat the efficiency of moving people by bicycle. A single-occupant car requires 20 times more space than a cyclist (see this image), and freeways cost about a hundred times more to construct (per km) than off-road bicycle paths.

Cycling is usually a faster mode of transport than car travel for trips up to about 5km in urban areas. For longer trips the travel time differences are small. In the morning peak (7.30 to 9.00 am) in Melbourne, average travel speeds in 2009/10 were 22.2km/h on inner Melbourne (approximately 10 km radius from CBD) undivided arterial roads, and 20.2km/h on arterial roads with trams. For a typical cycling speed of 20km/h, the average cycling trip to work (7.7 km) would take about 2 minutes (on undivided arterial roads) to 18 seconds (on arterial roads with trams) longer by bicycle than by car.

Read the full article at The Conversation here

Sydney’s sore point: Urban design plans for Parramatta Road stir controversy

Urban Design Parramatta Road

Parramatta Road Congestion

Ambitious plans for the urban renewal of Parramatta Road in Sydney, one of Australia’s most run-down urban corridors, are causing a stir in NSW.

The plans released by property development industry group the Urban Taskforce include the redevelopment of Parramatta Road into a new green, “liveability corridor” along the major link between the centre of Sydney and the city’s other major hub, Parramatta, to the west.

Architects, landscape architects and urban designers from nine firms are involved in the Urban Taskforce Australia plan for Parramatta Road in Sydney, currently widely regarded as an eyesore that includes as mix of car yards, run down buildings and decaying infrastructure.

The proposal was published in its magazine Urban Ideas where it identifies 12 major development sites along the corridor.

However members of the SydneyCENTRAL – the design consortium which won an international urban design competition for the Parramatta Road Corridor over a decade ago – have claimed the plans were identical to their work, labelling it “plagiarism”.

The University of technolgy, Sydney’ architecture department has published the SydneyCENTRAL – the design consortium on its website (PDF).

Heavily critical of the development plans, Sydney Morning Herald critic Elizabeth Farrelly says the chief obstacle to renewal for the strip is ”the NSW disease” – transport. She contends the best approach would be to install a tramline between Sydney’s two largest CBDs.

Read more
21 June 2012 | by David Wheeldon