A key objective of
Plan Melbourne is to create a city of 20 minute neighbourhoods, suggesting that 20 minute neighbourhoods are healthy communities, where “housing is within walking, cycling or public transport distance of employment, education, social, cultural, recreational and health facilities, and where people have access to open space and places where they can gather.”
The idea is that the provision of these services will encourage a “Walkable Neighbourhood”, from which in turn flow the health benefits of a more active lifestyle.
BIS Shrapnel is all about using hard data to support business decisions, we have decided to test out whether proximity to transport and services does indeed encourage walking.
The Victorian Government undertakes the Victorian Integrated Survey of Travel and Activity (VISTA). The most recent survey was undertaken in 2009/10, and classifies a household as being located within 1km of a train station (approx. 10 mins walk), within 3km of a train station (approx. 30 mins walk), and greater than 3km of a train station. As retail and services, as well as other public transport options, are often based around train stations, we have taken the train station as a proxy for the likely centre of a 20 minute neighbourhood.
Chart 1 shows the average number of walking movements per person per day across total Metropolitan Melbourne and for Outer Melbourne regions only. In this instance we refer to a “movement” as a journey from one destination to another, or a component of a journey with more than one mode of travel.
For total Metropolitan Melbourne, those within 1km of a train station had a much greater propensity to choose to walk, with an average 1.3 walking movements a day undertaken across the whole population. The average dropped to 0.9 movements per day for those living 1–3km from a train station, or around ten minutes to half an hour walk, and 0.57 movements per day for those living further than 3km from a train station. In contrast, the propensity to be walking for those living in Outer Melbourne was stable, and lower, at around 0.4 to 0.5 walking movements per day regardless of distance from a rail station.
Similarly, the amount of walking is greater for those closer to a train station (and consequently the services surrounding most train stations). Across total Metropolitan Melbourne, walking movements of those within 1km of a train station averaged 1.2km per day, with the average distance walked steadily decreasing as the distance from a train station increased—thereby increasing the need for other forms of transport such as motor vehicles.
The average daily distance walked by those within 1km of a train station across total Melbourne is six times larger than for those within 1km of a train station (at 0.2km per day) in outer Melbourne, which in turn was also approximately the average distance walked across the all of outer Melbourne regardless of distance from a train station. This suggests that proximity to a train station played little part in encouraging walking in outer Melbourne.
Given most activity centres around a train station in outer Melbourne contain a similar array of services as much of the rest of Melbourne, other factors must be at play that make a neighbourhood conducive to walking. In this regard, Outer suburban train stations are more likely to be surrounded by a large amount of car parking and lower density housing, while many activity centres in outer Melbourne also contain freestanding shopping centres that are inwardly focussed and are surrounded by significant parking.
In contrast, train stations in inner and middle Melbourne suburbs typically have a greater level of housing density close by. Retail and services also face the street and passing walking traffic. This encourages interaction between transport modes, services and housing when travelling between each. The increased density in these locations also provides a catchment of sufficient size to support these services at the local level.
This suggests that a neighbourhood not only needs the services required by the surrounding community, but also good design and density that encourages walkability. The challenge for planners in creating new neighbourhoods is to ensure the design will be conducive to walking and avoid the design mistakes of previous town centre developments that discourage walkability.
But why would you want a walkable neighbourhood? The National Physical Activity Guidelines recommend 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most days of the week as the minimum requirement for good health. Walkable neighbourhoods go a long way to more of the population achieving this target. With a study commissioned by
Medibank Private putting the cost to the economy of the population not meeting this threshold at $13.8 billion per year in 2008, everybody benefits from the improved health outcomes.