Cars are like plastic bags. They’re not bad in themselves, it is just that we use them too often and too much. The crazy thing is that plenty of car trips in urban areas are short. (1) Short enough to walk or cycle. Sometimes we spend more time looking for a car-park than it would take to walk or bike there.
The health benefits of active transport are clear:
Cycling is proven to improve health – the British Medical Journal recently published a study finding that cycling reduced a person’s chances of getting cancer by 45%, heart disease by 46%, and death from such diseases by 41%. (2)
If active commuting were a drug it would be a miracle pill and ‘we would be falling over ourselves to buy it.'(4)
So why aren’t we making healthier choices? Is it because biking is a dangerous activity? A New Zealand study of Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) injury risks of road cycling three times a week, compared to various other activities, found cycling had similar risks to DIY twice a month, 140-fold fewer injuries than skiing 4 – 5 times a year, and 530-fold fewer injuries than playing rugby every three weeks. The study concludes that fear of cycling in car-dependent NZ arise from causes other than the actual risk of injury. (5)
We know that our environments influence our choices and behaviour. And over the last few decades we have built an environment that puts the movement and storage of cars first, and healthy active people second. We now have a government intent on changing that, as evidenced by the latest transport Government Policy Statement(6) which supports active modes of transport.
As practitioners, we can incorporate that direction and focus into our workplaces and communities. We can help make changes that create environmental clues that walking and cycling are good to do, possible, easy, convenient and safe.
And it’s not about an all or nothing approach either – just replacing several short trips with walking or biking is the start of forming healthier habits.
Here are some things you can do:
- Create a cycle-friendly workplace
- Assess your bike parking and end of trip facilities. Link here to read more.
- Match up people with ‘trip buddies’ who can show them a route, answer questions and provide practical tips (your local biking advocacy group can probably help).
- Arrange an e-bike try-out day, and possibly a group discount, with your local e-bike store.
- Consider using fleet bikes to attend meetings away from your office.
- Encourage cycling and walking friendly destinations in your community
- Ask your local shops to put in some great bike parking and make pedestrian access safe and convenient.
- Work with your local council to encourage people to bike and walk to council facilities such as libraries, community centres, parks, and pools. Link here to find out more.
- Find out and publicise existing facilities such as bikes-in-schools tracks, safe cycling routes, bike hubs, bike fix-up programs, etc.
- Run some ‘have a go’ events.
- Make your events and programmes ‘active transport first’ – provide active transport (walk, cycle, bus) options first under ‘how to get here’, offer prizes and incentives for people using active modes.
- Expect more from your local council. Read more about how to get your local council on board here. Encourage or support them to adopt policies and strategies that promote active transport and healthy streets. Read more about healthy streets here.
Although we’ve spent years building ourselves into a car-centric environment, we can also build ourselves out of it. By challenging our habits and choices, and by rethinking the priorities, policies, and strategies that shape our environments and practices.
For more information on encouraging healthy active transport via great bike parking, please visit www.bikeswelcome.org
This article was written by Jo Clendon who is the founder and do-er of Bikes Welcome Charitable Trust, whose vision is “Great bike parking everywhere: encouraging more people to ride to more places.”
- In urban areas at least 43% of vehicle trips are less than 5 km, and 17% are less than 2 km. Source NZTA
- Celis-Morales CA, Lyall DM, Welsh P, et al. Association between active commuting and incident cardiovascular disease, cancer, and mortality: prospective cohort study. BMJ 2017;357:j1456. doi: 10.1136/bmj.j1456
- Associations between active commuting, body fat, and body mass index: population based, cross sectional study in the United Kingdom, BMJ 2014;349:g4887 doi: 10.1136/bmj.g4887 (Published 19 August 2014)
- Prof Alastair Woodward, https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11816885