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#SpaceForHealth, a call for safer walking & cycling space in Australia NOW!

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Over 100 Australian health and transport experts have today called on decision makers to enact urgent measures to support safe walking and cycling and social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemicLetter here.

The Australian Government has recognised the importance of remaining physically active during the COVID-19 pandemic, and has listed exercise as one of four essential activities. As a result, many Australians have been getting active across the country by walking and cycling, but many areas lack sufficient space required to maintain critical physical separation.

Physical activity is fundamentally important for mental and physical health, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. The current pandemic has demonstrated that the space we give to people walking and cycling on our streets is inadequate, especially given the need for physical distancing.

Dr Ben Beck, School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Monash University and President of the Australasian Injury Prevention Network (AIPN), says it best:

“In order to provide safe physical activity and social distancing for adults and children to exercise and move about their neighbourhoods, we need decision makers to enable rapid roll-out of social distancing infrastructure to support walking and cycling.  We have seen numerous examples across the world of governments introducing reduced speed limits, widened footpaths, emergency cycle lanes and the closure of roads. As yet, we have not seen a similar response in Australia, and we need to act now.” 

Experts also noted that safe cycling and walking will be imperative in reactivating our economy when social distancing measures are relaxed, enabling people to travel to work and school using transport modes that are both safe and healthy.

What are other countries doing? 

Just this past week Milan, Italy and Paris, France announced hundreds of kilometres of temporary cycle lanes to enable reopening the economy, and regionally New Zealand announced a fund to help councils create more people-friendly spaces in our towns and cities.

Why else do this?

Reopen the economy 

Experts and governments are saying that the COVID threat will be around for the foreseeable future and social distancing will need to occur if we are to reopen our economy.  When we do so, it is imperative that our cities are prepared and do not become congested nightmares (even more so than before) or allow air pollution levels to soar. 

We know from previous Global Financial Crisis and other downturns, that individuals pocketbooks will be hurting and many will be or are already struggling with debt.  Affordable and reliable transport will be key to getting those people to work.

Accessibility 

Enabling safer walking and cycling provisions must be met with key provisions for accessibility.  Many disability groups benefit from this infrastructure and additional support will ensure that those groups are not left behind and have equal and equitable access to transport. 

Environment and Air Pollution

Who has seen the pictures of the Himalyan mountains being clear or noticed their own city air cleaner?  Governments have clean air action plans.  Now is the opportunity to ensure that levels of air pollution don't spike when we return to action. The images of empty roads show how much we give to the motor vehicle and how little to pedestrians. 

Opportunity for how we want to live

I really hate using this word. Why? Well, people are dying and that really sucks. People are losing their jobs, their homes, and are fearful of the future. Children and vulnerable adults may be isolated inside their homes incurring violence with little ways to escape.  We won't know until this ends.  We do know, being isolated isn't good for out mental health. We do know that air pollution is bad for our health. We do know that we need to be able to get back to business.  Safe Walking and Cycling infrastructure can help us do this. Create a new space where our people and cities can thrive.

Why haven't councils done this yet?

The short answer is councils don't have the authority to take road space without the approval of the state; the legislative authority under delegated powers and controls over road space.  

The fact that councils haven't acted is because they don't have the power too. Not because they don't want. Are we honestly saying that we don't have one council in Australia that wants to act?  The fact that none of them have acted is a pretty clear sign that they can't.  (This was the case in the UK and NZ).

Thus, we call on decision makers to take urgent steps to enhance walking and cycling during the pandemic through these or other measures to ensure that safe physical activity and social distancing can occur on our streets now and when the economy is reopened. 

I hope you join me because now is the time to act. 

Sincerely,

Megan Sharkey, mother of 2 small kids, wife, and concerned Australian citizen.

 



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