Brisbane residents could live longer, healthier lives if more of them shifted from private cars to active transport, new research has shown, reducing cases of heart disease and diabetes by the thousands.

Brisbane City Council’s active travel goals for 2026 aim to boost walking by 15 per cent, public transport by 14 per cent and cycling by five per cent.

The research, which involved the University of Queensland (UQ), University of Cambridge and Queensland University of Technology, found there would be substantial health and economic benefits if these active transport targets were achieved.

It found that 82 per cent of adults’ weekday travel was by private car, no matter the distance between their homes and work, shopping centres or restaurants.

Decreasing that figure to the council’s 66 per cent target could reduce cases of heart disease by 45,000 and type two diabetes by 90,000 for adults living in Brisbane.

The research also showed active transport could significantly reduce cases of stroke, colon cancer and breast cancer, as well as improve coordination, increase bone strength and reduce injury risk.

“In Australia, 57 per cent of adults do not meet national physical activity guidelines, but we found that investing in active travel is a feasible strategy for improving population health,” UQ School of Public Health PhD candidate Belen Zapata-Diomedi said.

The results also translated into economic benefits, with net savings of $AU183 million in healthcare costs.

“Increasing active transport can help reduce the health and economic burden of low levels of [physical activity] observed in Australia,” the report said. “However, investments in infrastructure and programs to encourage behavioural change are vital to increase population uptake of active travel.”

Active transport strategies

There are a number of bodies already working to increase rates of active transport.

The Australian Vision for Active Transport, developed with organisations including the Heart Foundation, Australian Local Government Association and Cycling Promotion Fund, aims to promote and integrate safe environments for people choosing to walk, cycle or use public transport.

Strategies include funding community infrastructure and social marketing campaigns to advertise health benefits, supporting cycling and pedestrian education in schools and providing incentives for employers to encourage active transport.

Active travel and city inequality

Access to public transportation and walkable infrastructure also plays an important role in the inequality seen between inner and outer suburbs in Australian cities.

For example, in Sydney rates of diabetes are higher in the west, with inaccessible public transportation and unwalkable communities contributing factors.

And while Melbourne recently won the Economist Intelligence Unit’s most livable city award, unless you live and work in the CBD, livability isn’t guaranteed, with residents in the outskirts of the city more car dependent.

See On liveability, inequality and timeless truths

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