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New survey: two-thirds of Aussies support spending some road funding on walking, cycling, public transport
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New survey: two-thirds of Aussies support spending some road funding on walking, cycling, public transport

Media Release - 20 November 2020

Two-thirds of Australians back a diversion of some government road spending to local walking and cycling infrastructure and public transport, according to new Heart Foundation research released today.

The finding is part of “What Australia Wants”, a national survey of 2,895 people that aimed to measure community feelings about what makes a neighbourhood desirable, liveable and healthy.

“Understanding this is important, because where we live, work, play and learn is fundamentally linked to our health and wellbeing,” the Heart Foundation’s Director of Active Living, Adjunct Professor Trevor Shilton, said.

“It also helps the Heart Foundation to continue its advocacy for healthy and active built environments as a way to reduce the incidence of heart disease, Australia’s single leading cause of death,” he said.

“In 2019, an average of 50 Australians a day died of heart disease, or one every 29 minutes. While there is no one answer to bringing these numbers down, being able to live in a healthy community is a vital piece of the puzzle.”

Our survey asked Australians how important it is to live in a neighbourhood that allows them to be active locally. Almost eight in 10 (77 per cent) said it is “very” or “somewhat” important to them.

In fact, two-thirds (67 per cent) said they support a diversion of some government road funding to local walking and cycling infrastructure.

Around the same proportion (68 per cent) favour redirecting road funding to public transport. This promotes incidental exercise, because catching public transport often involves some walking between destinations.

Meanwhile, 64 per cent of Australians said they would like lower speed limits in local streets to make them safer for pedestrians, and 78 per cent support the creation of a national physical activity strategy aimed at getting people to move more and sit less.

Positively, 80 per cent of our sample think their local area already helps them to be physically active to some degree. However, when asked to rate specific attributes of active neighbourhoods, they gave mixed reviews. About three-quarters rated their open spaces and sense of safety as “excellent” or “good”, but only one in two felt they had safe cycling routes nearby.

We also asked respondents to imagine they were considering a move to a new location, and then had them rate the importance of 21 neighbourhood-design features. This revealed Australians’ top 10 most important neighbourhood attributes to be:

  • Convenient access to fresh food (90 per cent described as “somewhat” or “very” important);

  • A sense of safety (88 per cent);

  • Natural elements, such as trees and plants (83 per cent);

  • Facilities accessible on foot/bicycle (83 per cent);

  • Close to parks/open spaces (80 per cent);

  • Availability of properties with back yards (80 per cent);

  • Council providing safe footpaths (80 per cent);

  • Walking distance to parks/recreation areas (77 per cent);

  • Suitable for all age groups (76 per cent);

  • Walking distance to public transport (75 per cent).

Professor Shilton said the importance placed on fresh food availability came as a surprise and may have been influenced by the timing of the research.

“Our survey was conducted in August and September, when the memory of COVID-related panic buying and stockpiling was still fresh in everyone’s minds,” he said.

“People living in Victoria, who at this time were in the middle of the second-wave lockdown, were more likely than any other Australians to say convenient access to fresh food was very important to them. It was also more important to women, Australians aged over 50, and people without children.

“We were pleased to learn that Australians see fresh food as so important. Eating a diet rich in fruit, vegetables and wholegrains, along with healthy dairy and protein, can help protect your heart and cut your risk of developing heart disease.”

Fresh food availability and a sense of safety rated as the top two features in every state and territory – except Tasmania. In that state, the number-two priority, after access to fresh food, was living in an area where there are properties with back yards.

This was also a higher priority for regional Australians, with 84 per cent rating the availability of properties with back yards as important, compared with 79 per cent of city dwellers.

Australians in metropolitan areas felt it was more important to live within walking distance of public transport (80 per cent metro versus 55 per cent regional), and to be close to community facilities such as sports fields, libraries and places of worship (70 per cent versus 56 per cent).

“Overall, our data suggest that Australians want to live in safe, walkable, activity-friendly neighbourhoods. They also want easy access to fresh, healthy food, public transport and other everyday destinations, along with open spaces like public parks,” Professor Shilton said.

“These might seem like obvious wants, but many communities currently do not deliver even these basics. This is concerning because the quality of our built environment correlates closely with rates of chronic health conditions like heart disease.

“Our survey also suggests Australians recognise this, and want governments to invest in healthy, active neighbourhoods, to help them live longer, happier, more socially-connected lives.”

The Heart Foundation conducted an online survey of 2,895 nationally representative Australian adults between 15 August and 7 September 2020. The survey sample was sourced via the research-only panel LightSpeed. “What Australia Wants” complements other Heart Foundation initiatives promoting healthier built environments, including Healthy Active by Design and the Blueprint for an Active Australia. Read the full “What Australia Wants” report here.

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