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Australian Health and Transport Experts Call for Space for Safer Walking and Cycling

Media Release


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 pandemic.

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.

Dr Ben Beck, from the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at Monash University, has led the call from health and transport experts and is concerned for safety as our paths and cycleways are inadequate to handle the physical activity requirement during this crisis.

“Physical activity is fundamentally important for mental and physical health, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“However, 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.

“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,” Dr Beck said.

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.

Professor Rebecca Ivers, Head of School, Public Health and Community Medicine at the University of New South Wales has a special interest in health and transport and says,

“Not only do we need Australians to stay active and healthy, we need to consider how they can continue to do this safely during an extended period of physical isolation,

“Keeping active now and as we begin to get back on our feet is hugely important for our mental and physical well-being,

“The continued crowding in popular walking spots could be addressed with simple, temporary changes where we all live,” Prof Ivers said.

In Western Australia, GP and local Town of Cottesloe Councillor Dr Helen Sadler has also provided support for urgent changes.

“It has never been more important for West Australians to be active and look after their physical and mental well-being,

“Rapid government rollout of interim and long-term measures that make cycling and walking safer, will improve our community’s health now and have long lasting benefits,

“High pedestrian traffic areas such as the Perth CBD and coastal paths are ripe for innovative treatments that give more space to people. This will make it easier and safer to exercise and safer returning to the city when it is appropriate to do so”, Dr Sadler said

Shannon Leigh, Director for Streets for People highlighted some practical solutions that could be implemented,

“The quieter streets show how much space is given over to cars and with fewer cars around, people are coming back onto the streets,

“Families are walking and riding to explore their neighbourhoods for exercise and there is no space to pass someone on the footpath,

“Quick temporary solutions can be created through tactical urbanism. Funding should be provided to local groups to implement these ideas, as is being done in New Zealand.” Ms Leigh said.

The letter calling on decision makers to take urgent steps to enhance walking and cycling during the pandemic was sent today to all State and Territory Transport Ministers and co-signed by over 100 Australian experts.

In addition to academics from universities across Australia, support was also provided by individuals from the Heart Foundation, Public Health Association of Australia, the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, the Australasian College of Road Safety, the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons Trauma Committee, Kidsafe, the Australasian Injury Prevention Network, The Committee for Sydney and The Committee for Adelaide.


View the Letter HERE




Dr Ben Beck is a Senior Research Fellow in the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, and President of the Australasian Injury Prevention Network.

Professor Rebecca Ivers, an NHMRC Senior Research Fellow, is Head, School of Public Health and Community Medicine, UNSW Sydney, and Honorary Professorial Fellow at the George Institute for Global Health. Ivers leads a global research program focusing on the prevention and management of injury. Her work has a strong focus on equity, implementation, sustainability and capacity development. Ivers has worked extensively with the World Health Organisation and co-directs a WHO Collaborating Centre in Injury Prevention and Trauma Care.

Dr Helen Sadler is a GP, Town of Cottesloe Councillor and a member of WestCycle’s Transport, Safety and Advocacy Advisory Group.

Shannon Leigh is the Director of WA group Streets for People, Manager of Integrated Transport at Curtin University and a member of WestCycle’s Transport, Safety and Advocacy Advisory Group.


Dr Helen Sadler and Shannon Leigh are available to answer media questions.


Philip Taylor, WestCycle, phone. 6336 9688, philip.taylor@westcycle.org.au


Image Source: Transportation Alternatives New York