Wellington Scoop

Wellington research shows cycle lanes and walkways cut car use

Press Release – University of Otago
Researchers have shown for the first time that investing in cycle lanes and walkways encourages people to drive less and cuts carbon emissions.

The researchers, from the University of Otago, Wellington and Victoria University, studied the impact of new cycling and walking paths built in New Plymouth and Hastings in 2011.

In the three years after the development of the new infrastructure, they found there was a reduction of 1.6 per cent in vehicle kilometres travelled and an associated one per cent drop in carbon emissions.

It is the first study internationally to demonstrate that investing in cycle paths and walkways leads to a reduction in emissions.

“This is good news for our agenda to reduce carbon emissions, which is essential to meet our international targets and of course to contribute to stabilising the climate,” lead author Associate Professor Michael Keall from the University of Otago, Wellington, says.

Co-author Dr Caroline Shaw, a senior lecturer at the University of Otago, Wellington’s Department of Public Health, says the one per cent reduction in carbon emissions is likely to be a conservative estimate, as shorter car trips – those most likely to be replaced by walking or cycling – typically had higher per kilometre emissions.

“It is also important to note that we would expect the more extensive networks of cycle lanes which some councils are now putting in, to have an even bigger response,” Dr Shaw says.

If the same level of investment was made nationwide, it could reduce the country’s carbon dioxide emissions by at least 0.23 million tonnes over three years, the researchers say.

Building new cycle paths and walkways also appeared to reduce car ownership in the two cities. New Zealand has a high rate of light vehicles per capita, with 77 cars per 100 people, second only to the United States.

The researchers used a variety of methods to collect information on car usage, conducting face-to-face interviews with householders, analysing odometer readings from licensing data and reviewing details on car ownership from the New Zealand Household Travel Survey.

The data from New Plymouth and Hastings were compared with information from Whanganui and Masterton – two cities which received no additional government funding for cycle ways or walking paths.

Dr Shaw says the research clearly demonstrates that people are prepared to substitute cycling and walking for car journeys.

“We already know that putting in cycling and walking infrastructure reduces congestion and makes cities nicer places to live as well as being highly cost effective. We now also know that it reduces carbon emissions.”

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  1. Lucy, 3. December 2018, 13:02

    I’m from Hawkes Bay and despite the research claiming reduction in car useage, I am always seeing people driving their SUVs with multiple bikes on the back driving to and from the cycleways. I would dispute these so called findings and wonder what counters they used. All very convenient for Julie-Anne Genter’s $23million dollar announcement! Propaganda comes to mind!

  2. Mike Mellor, 3. December 2018, 14:10

    Lucy, anecdotal evidence that people are driving to cycleways is not in conflict with data that shows people are driving less because of cycleways. They can both both be correct, so they provide no grounds for disputing the “so-called” findings, nor for the insinuation that reputable academics are producing propaganda.

    Why don’t you read the study to check out your concerns?

  3. TrevorH, 3. December 2018, 14:59

    As with much “research” produced by the University of Otago these days sadly, these findings are not credible. I have never seen a cyclist on the Island Bay cycleway for instance. Pure ideologically-driven propaganda.

  4. lindsay, 3. December 2018, 15:35

    TrevorH: That’s a surprising statement. I’m in Island Bay three or four times a week, and I always see cyclists on the cycleway. There are also always cyclists coming and going on the roads approaching Island Bay where there’s no cycleway – you can see that things are dangerous for them without protection.

  5. luke, 3. December 2018, 17:17

    how can you expect a cycleway that isnt linked to anything to be busy. Wait until it’s part of a continuous network and it will become very busy.

  6. Seb, 3. December 2018, 19:35

    TrevorH, there are people using the cycle way in Island Bay. But it is yet to be connected to the missing parts of wider cycleways in Wellington such as the Newtown connections. You can’t expect a cycleway that is yet to be connected to anything to be busy. In the near future there will be continuous cycleways all the way to the CBD which is when it will be used more as it becomes a safe alternative to driving.

  7. Cecil Roads, 4. December 2018, 8:53

    It’s not because of a diversion to cycling, it’s because road space has been taken away from the people who pay directly for their use of it aka the car users. And, it’s not the first piece of research done on the subject. There are e_mountains of stuff on this! Perhaps Otago University researchers need to get out of their ivory towers a bit more and cycle through the literature with their eyes open. For example, this study took me 3 seconds to google from the flat land of the Netherlands.

  8. Mike Mellor, 4. December 2018, 10:54

    Cecil Roads: it’s ratepayers, not car users, who pay for urban roads.

    Apart from the health and environmental issues, car users take up much more space per person and cost much more to provide for than other users, and it’s a much better deal for ratepayers if roads are used more efficiently.

  9. Cecil Roads, 4. December 2018, 12:08

    MM – ratepayers pay 48% of urban road provision and 0% of SH1 otherwise known as the end of the Terrace Tunnel to the airport. 100% is paid from petrol and RUC charges and that is for USING the roads not for the roads just ‘being there’. Cyclists don’t pay anything for their USE of the roads they only contribute to the road being there as a ratepayer.

  10. Mike Mellor, 4. December 2018, 13:40

    CR: it’s reasonable for vehicle users to pay for use of roads (even though petrol tax is a pretty coarse measure) because their usage costs money in road wear and tear, and they also impose externalities like emissions, pollution and noise on people in general.

    But any such usage costs attributable to cyclists are negligible – a usage payment would just be subsidising other users (and would cost a lot of money to collect).