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King: National walking conference

Annette King

4 August, 2008
National walking conference

I am delighted to be back at a national walking conference talking to New Zealanders who really have taken the message of sustainability to their hearts, or should I say feet.

Walking is a great way to start the day, and I want to say a special thank you to everyone who joined me walking from Panmure Bridge.

I also want to than Living Streets Aotearoa president Celia Wade-Brown and your executive director Liz Thomas for inviting me to open this third national walking conference, and to acknowledge all the work your organisation does to promote walking around the country.

If variety is the spice of life, then I am never going to become bored at being Transport Minister. By Thursday I will have delivered five transport speeches in a week --- covering topics as diverse as shipping and the movement of freight, the 100th anniversary of the Main Trunk Line, road contracting and walking, of course.

And tomorrow, sandwiched between all those subjects, I am officially launching in Wellington the birth of the New Zealand Transport Agency, the update of the New Zealand Transport Strategy and the very first Government Policy Statement on Transport.

It is truly a multi-modal transport world in which we all live, and one of my most important challenges as Minister is to help provide the sort of environment in which all transport modes can operate efficiently and safely in an integrated way.

Walking is certainly one of my favourite modes. It’s environmentally, socially and economically sustainable, it’s healthy, and it even makes good economic sense – particularly in a world where the price of oil has been reaching record levels. The latest research on health benefit values from cycling and walking show that there is a health benefit of 50 cents per kilometre for cyclists and $1 per kilometre for pedestrians. These are conservative values, but they compare very favourably with the previous research in 2002, which showed the health benefit values were 16 cents per kilometre for cyclists and 44 cents for pedestrians.More than all of that, however, walking is fun.

And there will be a lot more New Zealanders having fun if the theme for this year’s Living Streets conference --- Double the Feet on the Street --- catches on, as I certainly hope it will.

The benefits of walking should be clear to all New Zealanders. As a former Health Minister I was a strong advocate of regular exercise. This is especially important when levels of obesity in New Zealand – particularly among our children --- are rising at alarming rates.

If we are serious in wanting to “double the feet on the street”, we need to start by setting an example to our young people and to encourage them by walking with them wherever we can.

Through nationwide School Travel Plan initiatives, like the Walking School Bus and Feet First Walk to School Week, we can begin to address the issue of declining walking rates amongst our children.

As I said at your last conference that I attended, I have been amazed to learn that more than half of our primary school children are now driven to and from school, nearly double the figure of ten years ago. Driving to school instead of walking reduces children’s physical activity and increases traffic congestion and air pollution. In some schools nearly 90 percent of children are driven each day.

Schools and caregivers can play an important role in encouraging children to walk to school in a safe and enjoyable environment.

Initiatives like School Travel Plans provide a safe and healthy environment for our children. The Walking School Bus has been a great success. I am encouraged to learn that every school day here in Auckland around 4550 children walk to school on 255 Walking School Buses. That’s good, and we can keep doing better.

Two years ago the walking school bus was joined by the Feet First Walk to School Week programme, a promotion held in early March to promote the benefits of regularly walking to and from school. This year, more than 140,000 primary school children from over 440 schools across the country took part, more than doubling the number of schools and students from last year. This year I was delighted to join students and teachers from Lyall Bay School in Wellington.

And let’s not forget that sometimes we slightly older people need to be reminded of the joys of walking too. In March I joined Celia and other members for Living Streets Aotearoa’s inaugural Walk to Work Day in Wellington. It was a wonderful initiative and I look forward to many more to come.

Walking is, in fact, the most common leisure activity among New Zealand adults. We walk for fun, for health and for recreation, but we could certainly walk far more in the name of transport as well, either by walking entire trips or walking to access other means of transport.

It can be quite difficult to measure the overall impact of walking in national or regional terms, as most people tend to focus on motorised journeys when they think about transport.

We do know, however, that New Zealanders spend 240 million hours walking each year, around 12 percent of our total travel time. Young people, aged five to 24, and people aged over 75 are those who depend most heavily on walking as a primary mode of transport. Estimates suggest that younger and older people make approximately one out of every five trips on foot.

This illustrates the importance of walking as an aid to independence – particularly for the very young and the very old.

As we know, however, travel patterns, land-use and transport policies have become more orientated worldwide towards motor vehicles at the expense of walking and cycling. New Zealand is no exception. One survey has shown New Zealanders undertook 400,000 fewer daily journeys on foot in 1998 than in 1990. The decline has been particularly noticeable in children walking to and from school.

The orientation toward vehicles has resulted in inequities in terms of provision for walking and cycling and this Government recognises that action is needed to halt the decline and reverse the trend.

You may recall that I signed the International Walking Charter at the 2006 Walking Conference. I am delighted that the Government recently endorsed the Charter and its principles, which highlight the role, purpose and importance of walking for leisure, transport and quality of life.

I was the first government minister in the world to sign the Charter and I am happy to report that it has since also been signed by several local authorities in New Zealand and internationally.

Though the Charter has no legal basis, it reinforces the Government’s aspiration to encourage more people to walk more often, a key objective of the Getting There – on foot and by cycle strategy.

I discussed this strategy --- launched in 2005 --- at your 2006 conference, and it remains the Government’s overarching walking and cycling strategy. As you know, its vision is to create an environment where people from all sectors of the community have the opportunity to walk and cycle for transport and enjoyment. We want to see more people walking and cycling more often and we want it to be safer.

This is especially critical in urban areas, where walking can most practically contribute toward the vision of “an affordable, integrated, safe, responsive and sustainable transport system.”

As you also know, Getting There sits under the umbrella of the 2002 New Zealand Transport Strategy, and tomorrow I am launching the strategy’s update at the same time as celebrating the birth of the New Zealand Transport Agency. I can tell you now that the updated strategy targets an increase in walking and cycling from the current levels of 17 percent of total trips in urban areas to 30 percent by 2040.

This target of “doubling the feet on the street” has been supported with increased funding to reflect the ongoing commitment the Government has to increasing walking and cycling.

In 2002 Land Transport New Zealand spent about $1 million on walking and cycling programmes. Last year this figure was $14.5 million and in this year’s NLTP we further increased funding to $18 million, and the intention is to continue increasing our commitment.

The actual spend on walking and cycling is actually double the $18 million targeted allocation, however, it is actually $36 miliion because walking and cycling initiatives are also incorporated into many roading projects.

We also have to focus on making walking safer, of course. From 2002 to 2006, an average of 687 pedestrians required hospitalisation each year and an average of 43 pedestrians were killed each year. This is about 10 percent of all road deaths in New Zealand. The figure is far too high, and our top priorities are to improve road safety and minimise personal security concerns for pedestrians.

Specific safety requirements for pedestrians and cyclists are addressed by the Pedestrian and Cycle Safety Framework, outlining a comprehensive approach to reduce risks to, and improve safety for, pedestrians and cyclists. The Framework aims to:

· Guide the work of government agencies, ensuring a co-ordinated national approach to improving road safety for pedestrians and cyclists.

· Support alignment of national, regional and local efforts to improve safety.

· Provide guidance and support for road controlling authorities.

· Support effective integration of safety into walking and cycling promotions.

A package of initiatives has been developed to support the Framework, based around engineering, education and enforcement – or the Three Es, as we like to call them.

From an engineering perspective, this means paying closer attention to road design, providing user-friendly pedestrian facilities and improving maintenance of existing walkways and footpaths.

In terms of enforcement, we must ensure that we have adequate enforcement of road rules and speed limits, particularly in built-up areas, and appropriate speed limits on mixed-use roads.

A number of education interventions are already in place, which spread the safety message to a wide audience, including, as I have mentioned, targeted campaigns like Feet First Week, the Walking School Bus and Walk to Work, all designed to encourage greater walking and reinforce the message that it is fun, healthy and safe.

We also have road safety education programmes like the Police Road Safe Series and LTNZ’s Road Sense, designed for primary and intermediate schools, and Share the Road, a programme encouraging safer behaviour from pedestrians and cyclists.

The New Zealand Transport Agency has funding available for councils to conduct Neighbourhood Accessibility Plans to improve access to public transport; improve facilities around schools and suburban town centres, create more traffic calming and lower speed zones; and improve the infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists.

I talked earlier about integrating transport modes, and I want to re-emphasise the importance of doing so. Walking, cycling, and public transport can work together to get us to our destinations safely.

Good, safe walking access to and from public transport is essential for people to make smarter transport choices. Whatever mode we choose, walking will always be a vital link in the transport chain.

Doubling the feet on the street will go a long way to creating safer and more people-friendly urban centres for everyone.

I want to congratulate Living Streets Aotearoa for your work in promoting walking as a viable and safe mode of transport and I look forward to continuing to work with you. Thank you again for inviting me to speak today and for joining me on this morning’s walk, and I wish you well for the rest of your conference. Thank you.


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