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Amid questions about the long-awaited Active Transport Fund, experts call for urgent action to reduce road safety deaths

Introduction by Croakey: Next week’s Federal Budget will include $100 million for a new national Active Transport Fund to upgrade and deliver new bicycle and walking paths.

Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government Catherine King said the initiative will “support zero emissions travel, provide a safer environment for cyclists and pedestrians, and promote active and liveable communities”.

The program is expected to begin on 1 July 2025, and guidelines will be developed in consultation with states and territories.

The Climate and Health Alliance welcomed the announcement, noting that CAHA has championed a healthy transport fund for a decade.

Traffic-related air pollution is known to cause asthma onset in children, lung cancer, ischaemic heart disease, chronic obstructive lung disease, stroke, diabetes, and premature birth and low birth weights, CAHA CEO Michelle Isles said in a statement.

However, the Greens said the funding pledge falls far short of a call for 20 percent of federal transport funding to be dedicated to active transport, as recommended by the Climate Council in its 2023 Shifting Gear Report in order to achieve Australia’s obligations under the Paris Agreement and reduce traffic congestion.

Elizabeth Watson-Brown, Greens spokesperson for Transport, Infrastructure and Sustainable Cities, said the new fund will not see a meaningful decrease in cars on the road, with the Government “still tipping over $10 billion a year into road projects that will see more people drive”.

“If Labor’s new active transport commitment were spread between Australia’s 86 cities and regional centres, it would equate to just over $290,000 a year each for active transport infrastructure. That’s hardly much more than a few painted lines,” Watson-Brown said in a statement.

Meanwhile, recommendations for reducing road deaths are outlined in the article below, which was first published by The Conversation with the headline, Hundreds of cities have achieved zero road deaths in a year. Here’s how they did it.


Matthew ‘Tepi’ Mclaughlin and Chris De Gruyter write:

It’s National Road Safety Week and it comes on the back of a year in which 1,286 people died on Australian roads. The rising road toll – up 8.2 percent for the year to March – included 62 children. Tragically, road deaths remain the number one killer of children in Australia.

Road deaths are not inevitable. In 2022, at least 180 cities worldwide recorded zero road deaths. More than 500 cities with populations of more than 50,000 have achieved zero road deaths multiple times.

So cities can eliminate road deaths, or greatly reduce them. At the same time, these cities are creating healthier streetscapes that people want to be active and spend time on. They have done this by taking action on several fronts to make roads safe.

Australian road deaths over the past five years

 

Redirecting road funding

Walking and cycling infrastructure gets less than two percent of Australian transport funding. Reallocating funding from roads to walking and cycling, as for example France and Ireland have done, can increase road safety and reduce carbon emissions.

Australians want this shift in funding. Two-thirds of Australians support the idea that government should redirect road funding into walking and cycling infrastructure, according to a nationally representative survey by the Heart Foundation.

Reallocating street space

A disproportionate amount of road space is set aside for car travel and parking. For instance, across Melbourne’s busiest shopping strips footpaths are given 30 percent of the street space, on average, but account for almost 60 percent of all people using the street. Lanes for general traffic (cars, motorbikes and trucks) are also typically given around 30 percent of the space, but account for less than 20 percent of all people.

Similar results are found in cities elsewhere, from Budapest to Beijing.

Redesigning streets nudges people to drive at a safer speed. Before writing this article, we asked each other: “What would it look like if we designed our roads like footpaths, and our footpaths like roads?”

This question may seem unrealistic. But, as a design exercise, we wanted to explore what it could look like, to shine a light on footpath space.

We chose a random street, took a photo and set out to alter the image. We moved objects on the footpath – such as bins, signposts and mailboxes – to the edge of the roadway. Slightly more space was given for people walking, while still providing enough space for vehicles to operate safely within the roadway. Here’s this reimagination.

Across Paris, the Rues aux écoles initiative is reallocating street space on hundreds of “school streets” for children to play. The streets are designed to make it safe for children to play outside their school, for example, while waiting to be picked up.

Safer speed limits

The 100-plus-year experiment of cars on our streets is failing in Australia. But it’s not the cars per se, it’s the drivers’ speed that’s killing people. Speed and speeding are crucial factors in road safety. Australia’s 50km/h default speed limit in built-up areas is unsafe for many streets.

Globally, countries are adopting 30km/h speeds by default for side streets and urban centres, and it’s working. Reducing default speed limits to 30km/h reduces crashes, their severity and deaths.

Setting 30km/h as the default speed limit is a low-cost action that works to save lives. A majority of Australians support lower speed limits on neighbourhood streets. And, despite what drivers might fear, it has negligible impact on total journey times.

Lower speed limits make people feel safer, and that has a transformative impact. In Perth, for example, 2.8 million car trips a day are less than five kilometres – that’s two-thirds of all journeys. When people feel safe to walk, wheelchair or jump on their bikes for short journeys, such as popping out for milk or bread, they leave the car behind.

Swapping out these short car trips reduces congestion and carbon emissions. And it improves our health by boosting physical activity and mental well-being.

Where to start?

As researchers, we think it’s unacceptable to not act on the evidence of what works to boost road safety. We believe it’s time for urgent action.

Here’s where to start:

  1. zones around schools, especially reducing speed and more safe crossings
  2. reallocating road funding and space to boost safety and efficiency
  3. reducing speed limits in built-up areas by default.

Lower speed limits and redesigned streets should be backed up by public education campaigns and speed fines, to raise awareness of the deadly toll of speeding.

What can you do?

Be the change you want to see and become a champion of your local streets. When communities come together to call for change, it works.

Amsterdam, for example, wasn’t always a haven for walking and cycling. It took concerted community action against the high number of children dying on their roads.

Start a local group to champion safer and healthier streets in your neighbourhood. There are organisations to support you to take action, such as Better Streets.

Authors

Dr Matthew ‘Tepi’ Mclaughlin is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the University of Western Australia, a physical activity researcher and public health advocate. He is a member of the Asia-Pacific Society for Physical Activity and the International Society for Physical Activity and Health. He is a Board Member of Better Streets and a member of the Active Transport Advisory Group of Westcycle.

Dr Chris De Gruyter is a Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Urban Research at RMIT University. He is currently undertaking a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) project funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC) titled ‘Impacts of the apartment boom on public transport in Australian cities’. Prior to joining RMIT University, Chris was a Research Fellow and Deputy Director in the Public Transport Research Group at Monash University. He also worked in transport planning for 12 years, both with the Victorian government and in consulting.


See Croakey’s archive of articles on road safety