By Dominique Hes

    I am Dutch, and my bicycle is my car, so I grew up with ‘active’ transport. Basically, active transport is any form of transport that requires physical activity i.e. walking, skateboarding, scootering, cycling, and it’s vital for resilient and healthy communities. 

    The benefits of active transport are many. I personally love the capacity to jump on my bike at any time, to get anywhere I want, and feel healthy and connected to the place where I am. 

    When I was 18 I rode a bike around the Netherlands, just me, nature, and the time and space to connect with the changing architecture and essence of each place. These days I ride to the city, using the punt at Science Works, connecting with the sun rise, and often sun set each day. It is such a joy seeing the seasons change. 

    So, let’s dive into the data on the benefits of active transport and how it supports community wellbeing.

    Many of us know the importance of exercise, so we go to the gym, but I prefer to ride my bike. It is free, and if enabled through safe cycle paths (AND aware drivers!) it’s great exercise that helps me work through the day’s stresses. 

    John Symons, president of Bike West, says the health benefits of bike riding are compelling. ‘Physical inactivity is responsible for more than 7% of all-cause and cardiovascular disease deaths and up to 8% of non-communicable diseases,’ he says. ‘The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reported this year that Type 2 diabetes costs Australia $3 billion per year while coronary heart disease costs $11.8 billion.’

    He says that independent mobility also influences children and their physical, social, cognitive, and emotional development. ‘Freedom of movement unaccompanied by an adult has been shown to be significantly associated with physical activity among children.’
    So if kids are free to move around independently they will be more active. ‘In addition,’ he went on, ‘those who are more independent play more often with their peers, both indoors and outdoors.’

    A 2015 Deakin study shows that independent active transport helps children learn mapping and navigation skills and helps build relationships both socially and with the natural environment. Independent active transport during childhood also results in a stronger sense of community, less fear of crime, and reduced feelings of loneliness while growing up. 

    In previous articles I’ve explored how connection to place creates care for place. When more people feel connected to their ‘place’ and community there is a measured reduction in anti-social behaviour like littering and graffiti. This is because community connection to place leads to increased activity on the street, meaning there are more people out and about. A lot of anti-social behaviour occurs when it is easy to be anonymous.

    Active transport also builds resilient communities. If people are healthier mentally and physically, if they are connected to their neighbours and neighbourhood then the potential to work together to overcome challenges increases. We all saw this during COVID. Those in strong communities could call on others to help with food, connection and often toilet paper!

    Driving this home is data from Place Score which analyses liveability metrics via its annual State of Place reports. Founder Kylie Legge says their data consistently shows that more cars and car parks reduces liveability scores. ‘The easier it is to drive and park, the less likely someone was to recommend it as a good place to live or visit,’ she says. 

    The economic vitality of a place is also impacted. Some people might assume that cars and car parking are critical to a community’s economic opportunities, but the opposite is true. A well-designed mix of public transport and active transport increases both the frequency of visits and the length of time people choose to linger in a place. 

    As we recover from the pandemic we need to rethink our communities and our shops, cafes, and main streets. We need to factor in population density which is set to increase over the next decades. A focus on active transport needs to be a priority.

    This is particularly pertinent as we support our communities to constructively adapt to the challenges of climate change and economic instability. 

    Find out more:
    BikeWest – Bike lanes are a small but significant indicator of a loveable place 
    Place Score – 2023 State of Place report

    Dr Dominique Hes is the Zero Building Carbon Lead at the City of Melbourne. Dominique mixes theory and thinking, with doing and testing to discover how we can best contribute to the well-being and thriving of place, people and planet.

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