Kiwis Can Live Better


Sobering evidence of negative links between urban form and ill health is made clear in a major public health report out today.

The Public Health Advisory Committee which provides independent public health advice to the Minister of Health, released a report today called Healthy Places, Healthy Lives: Urban environments and wellbeing that highlights the urgency of designing urban areas in ways that promote – not impede – good health.

It says: 86% of New Zealanders now live in urban areas. But in these areas, people are walking less, there are more cycle crashes on our roads, and urban air pollutants are contributing to the increasing burden of respiratory illness.

But we can do something abut it.

Robin Kearns, PHAC member and Professor of Geography at the University of Auckland. “A growing body of evidence identifies how we can design cities for better health outcomes and in ways that have ‘co-benefits’ for the environment, society and business.”

The report says that within New Zealand, there is some tension between the objectives for public transport as a social service and its objectives as a commercial venture. In some centres, this tension has led to inefficiencies, for instance creating higher costs for users. In Dunedin there are three public transport providers covering a similar area and many buses have only a small number of passengers.

“Greater regional governance over public transport would give a more  comprehensive and integrated service.”

“PHAC believes a universal design approach to public transport is essential in increasing its use by all populations.

“A well-designed system will increase the independence of people with disabilities and older people, and reduce the social exclusion that often accompanies lack of mobility.

“In New Zealand, public transport trips comprise a relatively small proportion of all travel. PHAC supports an increase in public transport, as well as regional governance to help integrate services and assess routes for access. The PHAC believes proximity to public transport should be a requirement of all new development. The target of the New Zealand Transport Strategy 2008 is that 7 percent of all trips will be public transport trips by 2040.

“Even this modest target will  not be reached without significant improvements in public transport access and availability. On the other hand, relatively small steps to increase the number of routes and the frequency of services and to improve timing of buses in urban areas could improve public transport usage. Overseas, public transport investment has led to positive health, environmental and economic benefits.

“For instance, Portland found investment in light rail was good for business, with services vying for close proximity to public transport stops.”

Report calls for increase in use of public transport

The report provides these case studies of effective public transport infrastructure”

1. Integrated transport hierarchy – United Kingdom

York has developed an integrated transport network that does not prioritise private cars and meets local air quality objectives.

In 2001, the city developed a hierarchy of transport users for making decisions related to land use and transport. The hierarchy starts with pedestrians, followed by people with mobility problems, cyclists, public transport users, powered two-wheelers, commercial or business vehicle users, car-borne shoppers/visitors and car-borne commuters.

The system’s goals were environmental impact, safety, economy, accessibility and integration.

Key successes over the first five years were:

  • peak period traffic levels were limited to 1999 levels and reduced at peak periods
  • bus patronage increased by 45 percent
  • an increase of 72 percent in the number of ‘Park & Ride’ passengers to over 2.6 million in 2005/06
  • a 19 percent reduction in road casualties and serious injuries
  • achieving the status of the United Kingdom’s top cycling city in 2004
  • a 10 percent shift from car travel to more sustainable transport modes at peak times • a doubling of the number of children cycling to school.

2. Sustainable travel demonstration towns – United Kingdom

Three sustainable travel demonstration towns in the United Kingdom (Darlington, Worcester and Peterborough) achieved a 11–13 percent reduction in car trips, a 13–22 percent increase in public transport use, a 17–29 percent increase in walking and a 25–79 percent increase in cycling in just over two years.

Activities included :

  • workplace and school travel planning
  • car-sharing schemes
  • an increased promotion of walking and cycling
  • improved public transport and general marketing

Discussing walking and cycling, the report says walking and cycling are not just leisure activities. With the right type of design, they are realistic  forms of everyday transport for people.

“PHAC is concerned at the lack of investment in walking and cycling in New Zealand. It commends the Government for its investment in the national cycleway, and believes that this cycleway should be extended to urban areas. With such an extension, it would be beneficial not only for tourism but also for the health of the New Zealand population at large and for the environment.

“When road infrastructure, such as a new Auckland harbour crossing, is built, the PHAC encourages the prioritisation of walking and cycling alongside motor vehicle transport.”

PHAC believes all new development should incorporate a walkable urban form. An example  is the review of the Code for Subdivision Development in the Kapiti Coast.

Kapiti Coast District Council viewed its Code for Subdivision Development as a barrier to innovative and quality urban design. It revised the code under the District Plan, which focused on more integrated sustainable management and compact, connected development.

The subsequent Jade Garden subdivision had higher density, with a connected road network, living spaces that face the street, close proximity to the planned railway station and an extensive open space area.

“Walking and cycling can never replace cars.  However, urban design can provide more balance between transport modes, particularly for short distances. Those distances that are easy to walk or cycle comprise almost 30 percent of New Zealand’s motor vehicle trips.

“Walkable urban design can broaden people’s travel choices. It is important for creating safe routes to and from school, for providing young people with independent travel, and for supporting older people and people with disabilities to be active.”

Other interesting points in the report include:

  • New Zealand has a high number of motor vehicles per capita in comparison to other developed countries. PHAC believes more research and monitoring should be done to better understand the effects of air pollution on human health.
  • Attractive, well-lit interconnected walking and cycling networks increase cohesion because they  encourage people- and family-centred activity and create opportunities for casual meetings between people. There is also evidence that connected, well-lit walking paths, together with buildings that face the street, reduce crime rates. One study found more people walked when they lived closer to attractive and large public open spaces.
  • Improving public transport infrastructure is especially important for people in outlying, more socioeconomically deprived neighbourhoods, who often experience poor transport links to urban centres, spend a higher proportion of their income on transport, have lower rates of car ownership, and are more likely to have chronic conditions.
  • People living near a railway station are five times more likely to commute by rail, and the strongest influence on choosing  to use a bus is close proximity to a bus stop. Conversely, for every 400 m increase in distance between a public transport stop and home, the odds of taking public transport decrease by 16 percent.
  • Proximity can be achieved both by increasing public transport infrastructure  (including ensuring that outlying areas are accessible) and by building new development around existing public transport. The WHO recommends that all new residential development be built within 400 m of bus services, and that all new office, retail and leisure developments be within 300 m of walking distance from public transport,




  1. ingolfson says:

    It seems by now that about the only organisations that have not agreed that more PT and active mode investment is urgently needed are the trucking lobby and the cabinet.

  2. jarbury says:

    Robin Kearns was one of my university lecturers. He basically invented the walking bus in the NZ context and is REALLY onto it.

  3. silverado says:

    But will politicians read it and respond to it or simply bin it and carry on as if it is business as usual?

  4. Jeremy Harris says:

    What an awesome report, the evidence builds, will listen and change..?


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