Drive to cars unhealthy, says study

Sydney Morning Herald

Thursday 4 July 2002

By Anne Davies

The state's transport policies are damaging our health and the problem is getting worse, a study by doctors and transport experts has found.

Planning policies which favour cars over walking and cycling are reducing the amount of exercise we do and increasing pollution, the paper by the Warren Centre reveals.

The alarming picture of an unhealthy population fostered by decisions taken now about transport needs is part of the Sustainable Cities project.

"Current transport planning and infrastructure foster habitual car use. Consequently, almost half the population is exposed to substantial health risk from physical inactivity," warns the report, which is released today.

The researchers say 40 per cent of NSW residents fail to exercise at levels recommended for good health and 40 per cent are overweight or obese.

"The most effective and enduring way of increasing our physical activity is by using active transport rather than driving," the report says.

However, most transport policies over the last decade have focused on making car use easier. Money has gone into motorways over public transport, while the new suburbs in north-west Sydney have been released for development without any public transport infrastructure.

The director of Sustainable Cities, Ken Dobinson, said the policies had a direct impact on people's behaviour and health.

Health authorities recommend at least 30 minutes of brisk walking or cycling on most days of the week, but there has been a sharp decline in the number of Australians walking since the 1970s.

The problem of car-dependence will become even more acute as the population ages, the researchers warn.

Dr Dobinson says cities need to be divided into several centres, with a mix of residential and commercial that allow people to live near their work and shops. He also recommends greenways combining cycleways, walking paths and even small-scale public transport.