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King: National walking conference

Annette King speech at "Living Streets Aotearoa" national walking conference

This is the first conference on walking I have opened as Transport Minister, but I can assure you I come to this particular mode of transport from an enthusiastic background in the health portfolio.

When I was Health Minister, I greatly enjoyed joining parents and pupils on walking school buses, and as Transport Minister that's a concept I would dearly love to see flourish even more, especially in Auckland.

There is certainly plenty of room for improvement. I have been amazed to learn that today over half of New Zealand primary school children are driven to and from school. That's nearly double the figure from 10 years ago.

Auckland regional travel surveys show that 40 percent of peak time car journeys are now education-related, and the potential impact of walking school buses can perhaps be better understood when it is realised that the Government is currently spending $1500 million on large state highway projects that are under construction in that region.

I want to acknowledge my old Parliamentary colleague Sir Kerry Burke, now chair of Environment Canterbury, and to thank Living Streets Aotearoa president Celia Wade-Brown and your executive director Liz Thomas for their invitation to open this conference.

I understand the vision for Living Streets is "more people walking more often and enjoying public places --- young and old, fast and slow".

That's a vision I endorse wholeheartedly. It is sometimes difficult, in the often-crowded schedule of a cabinet minister, to find time for walking, but I walk as often as I possibly can, and I think I have probably worn out more pedometers than most people.
I think I am like a lot of Wellingtonians in that respect. It is one of the great walking cities of New Zealand. I know Christchurch is too, and if we can just persuade Auckland to walk more often as well, there could be quite startling health and environmental benefits for the country as a whole. There can be no better week to advance that message, I am sure you will agree, than this one in which Sir Nicholas Stern's report, warning of the devastating cost of failing to address climate change, has been released.

Hippocrates, born in 460 BC, and known as the father of modern medicine, recognised and prescribed walking as the best medicine for many ailments. However, no matter all the scientific advances since his days, or perhaps because of them, we often seem in danger of engineering walking out of our lives completely.

As I said, the benefits of walking --- for individuals and for the country --- are very clear. The economics alone make great sense, in terms of our health system, as walking is the cheapest way to beat obesity. But to get this country walking, we need to start by setting an example to its youngest citizens, and to encourage them by walking with them, wherever we can. School walking buses are part of that equation.

How times have changed. Walking used to be the mode of getting to school. The convenience of cars is one reason for the change, but also many parents are worried about their kids walking alone on the streets. Walking school buses provide a safe, as well as healthy environment.

Walking makes health sense, it makes economic sense, and it makes environmental sense.

The churlish might say that walking is not particularly efficient, in that it lacks speed, but those of you who have lived in big cities will know that you can often get to your destination quicker on foot than by any other mode. In fact, the churlish are those you often see sitting behind the wheels of gridlocked cars.

Walking is also the best mode of transport for engaging our senses. They come alive: smell, hearing, sight, taste and even touch – out in the fresh air everything is enhanced. Add in those feel-good endorphins that physical activity generates. No wonder I am an enthusiast!

Walking is, in fact, the most common leisure activity among New Zealand adults. We walk for fun, for health and for recreation, but, as I have suggested, 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's actually difficult to measure the overall impact of walking in national or regional terms, as most people don't give information on walking when transport statistics are being gathered. When they think about transport they tend to focus on motorised journeys.

We do know, however, that at least one billion trips, around 20 percent of household travel trips per annum, are made on foot. Young people, aged five to 24, and those aged over 80 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 four trips on foot.

This is a great aid to independence. Walking is an "independent" mode of transport. Most of us need only willpower to get started.

As we all know, however, travel patterns, land-use and transport policies have become more oriented worldwide toward 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 orientation toward motor vehicles has also resulted in inequities in terms of provision for walking and cycling, and this Government recognises action is needed to halt the decline or reverse the trend.

In 2005 the Government developed the Getting there – on foot, by cycle strategy, which recognises that more concerted and collective action is required to ensure that walking and cycling can flourish as modes of transport and that our transport systems support and encourage their use.

The Getting There strategy sits under the umbrella of the New Zealand Transport Strategy of 2002, where the Government made a commitment to a national strategy for walking and cycling, and recognised the importance of both these modes of transport within the New Zealand transport mix.

While we acknowledge that walking and cycling face similar issues, we also recognise that we need to support each mode independently to strengthen them as unique modes of transport. We need to keep doing more to capitalise more fully on the potential of both walking and cycling to contribute to the country's economic, social and environmental objectives.

Getting There articulates the Government's vision of a New Zealand where people from all sectors of the community walk and cycle for transport and fun. As I said, this is especially critical in urban areas, where walking can most contribute toward the aims of the New Zealand Transport Strategy for a more affordable, integrated, safe, responsive and sustainable transport system.

Getting There is underpinned by a national implementation plan, released a few months ago, that builds on the range of existing activities nationally, regionally and locally. The plan identifies ten new national initiatives.

Examples include developing an Information Centre to disseminate research and best practice; setting up a benchmarking programme to support territorial authorities with high levels of service for cyclists and pedestrians; developing a programme to encourage champions of walking; and investing in model community partnerships with local government and other central government partners.

Land Transport New Zealand has already begun work on implementing aspects of the plan, and it is interesting to note that while in 2002, LTNZ spent about $1million on walking and cycling programmes, that figure today is now $11 million.

These model community partnerships will combine social and physical infrastructure to make walking a far more attractive mode of transport. My hope is that the Getting There Implementation Plan should boost walking as a mode for transport and recreation and contribute to an increase in the number of trips made on foot.
However, as we increase participation we also need to focus on making walking safer. Our top priorities in this area are to improve road safety for pedestrians and cyclists, to address crimes like bike theft, and to take action to minimise personal security concerns for pedestrians.

Generally, in fact, I believe an important next step in road safety in New Zealand needs to be developing our road safety culture for all road users. Something I am very keen to see happen as soon as possible is a reduction in speed limits around schools, kindergartens and play centres. I hope to announce measures on this aspect before Christmas.

I'm pleased, in this respect, that the Ministry of Transport has just published the Pedestrian and Cycle Safety Framework, which outlines a comprehensive approach for effectively reducing risks to, and improving safety for, pedestrians and cyclists.

Previously, the safest thing for walkers and cyclists may have been to not walk and not cycle. This framework provides guidance to national and local agencies on how to approach safety across all modes.

Some of you will be aware of work done overseas, now being replicated here, as a result of research that shows that having more people walking around in urban areas contributes to a decrease in crime, but for this to happen we need more pedestrian areas in the first place.

We also need to recognise that tourism -– and the economy –- can benefit from environments that are more attractive to walk in. Pleasant and safe environments not only encourage tourists to visit, but also to stay here longer, and to spend more as a consequence.

Before I finish today, I want to emphasise the inter-connectedness of all transport modes. Walking, cycling, public transport and our own vehicles can work together in a complementary way to get us to our destinations safely.

And no matter what mode we choose, walking is always likely to be a vital link in the transport chain. Walking can be the perfect support to other modes of transport. It will always be easy to find an excuse to drive short distances, but how much more fun it can be to make excuses to walk instead.

I want to congratulate Living Streets Aotearoa for your work in promoting walking as a viable and safe mode of transport, often in partnership with public transport.

Walking makes our New Zealand streets more vibrant and safer, and happier places in which to live. Walking makes for livelier and more connected communities.

Quite simply, walking makes life better. Thank you again very much for inviting me to walk the talk with you again today.


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