Episode 9: Foot soldiers.

Sandy, Andrew and me.

So, a couple of high powered thinkers drift into town on a mission to get people back on their feet. How do you tackle the topic?

Take them for a walk around the block of course!

This week, Otago University released a report arguing New Zealanders need to get more active when it comes to getting around. It concludes the health benefits are too great to ignore, and our leaders need to prioritise walking, cycling, and other forms of human powered transport for the good of the nation.

The Report, Turning the Tide, lists these goals for 2050;

“Double the proportion of trips walked to 25%. Double the proportion of cycling trips in each of the next decades, with the ultimate goal of 15% of all trips being on bicycles.  Increase the proportion of all trips by public transport to 15%”.

If anything, these goals seem slightly on the conservative side, given the availability of electric assistance on bikes and other forms of micro-mobility is only likely to increase. I see no reason why smart motors won’t be able to kick in when you’re pushing off on a scooter, or using your roller skates, let alone bikes.

Of course, you could argue, if micro-motors are where we are headed, by 2050 we’ll all be floating around on our own personal pods.

All the more reason to encourage exercise while we can.

The report’s name suggests the situation we find ourselves in towards the end of the teen years of the current century is the result of a long term trend. Anyone who remembers 1980s high school bike sheds stuffed full of Choppers, Raleigh 20s and Healing Ten Speeds will relate to this.

In terms of winning over others to active transport (given I’m one of the converted) I think the surest route to success might be through our children. Adults who earn enough, can afford to compensate their sedantary existence with gym passes, but I don’t know of many parents who wouldn’t like to see their children living a more active lifestyle.

For this week’s Traffic Jam I took two of the report’s authors, Otago University’s Dr Sandy Mandic, and Wellington consultant, Andrew Jackson, for a 30 minute walk around the block.

You can read the full report here.  It’s the result of a lot of brainstorming which came out an Otago University run gathering  of active transport specialists earlier this year. Hopefully it won’t be the last.

It’d be great to see data from the University’s longitudinal study incorporated into a case for human powered travel. I’d also love to know what health outcomes populations in countries with more active transport (The Netherlands, Denmark) are achieving. Are the Dutch less obese? Do they have less heart disease? These were questions Sandy and Andrew were unable to answer.

Last year over a hundred Wellington doctors got off their chuffs  to argue more cycling infrastructure is a public health no-brainer.

I’d wager there aren’t many schools in the city that couldn’t do more to encourage kids to make their own way to class, especially if parents push them in that direction.

Sandy and Andrew are now taking their ideas to local and central government officials around the country. It’ll be interesting to see how many of them turn up as council and departmental policy in a few months time.





2 thoughts on “Episode 9: Foot soldiers.

  1. Travelling in the Netherlands in the late 80’s with a newborn baby was so easy (!) we decided to do it again with three kids, (6, 4 and 2 months old). What struck me both times was the normalised active transport. We stayed with family, who, without exception, chose to walk or cycle first, next option the train, and finally the car. Handle bar bike seats for toddlers and carrier sets were the norm, and I made it my business to bring some back to NZ. Winning at cycling! Using it here definitely pushed me the margins of sanity in the eyes of many – but its awesome to see such madness spreading today. Needless to say today all of my kids think cycling is the first choice for transport.
    As for population health stats, who knows -though between the cycling and those steep stairways in the homes, that has to be a good start.


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