With rising obesity rates and fewer children walking and cycling to school in Auckland, urban designers are pushing a new approach to transport which puts health first.

Public health consultant Lucy Saunders has been instigating transport policy in London focused around health outcomes, rather than just getting from A to B.

"The transport field originally just involved moving cars around, but in urban areas it has become much broader," Saunders said.

"It affects our ability to build physical activity into our daily routine, the quality of the air we breathe, our risk of being injured or killed in a collision, our exposure to the health impacts of noise and how we access the people, places and services we need."


Saunders, who is giving a public talk in Auckland next week, works for Transport for London, which adopted her Healthy Streets Approach.

The programme has 10 indicators for the city based around improving health and community outcomes, including enhancing personal safety, physical activity and reducing air pollution.

One aim was to get Londoners to walk or cycle for at least 20 minutes every day, estimated to save the National Health Service more than $3b in 25 years.

The city has made changes to enhance pedestrian and cycle usage, reduce emissions from vehicles and make the streets less traffic dominated, including dropping central speed limits to 20mph (about 30km/h) by May 2020.

Unhealthy streets were car-dominated, with no footpaths nor areas for people to stop and have conversations, and no areas to cross the road safely, Saunders said.

A healthy street encouraged active transport - walking and cycling, while reducing the number of cars and the speeds they travelled, making it safer for everybody.

Green spaces and trees also helped reduce pollution and enhance air quality, and sheltered areas and seating provided areas for city residents to rest and have conversations.

Examples around the world where such transformations had taken place included the 2.33km Highline in New York, the 4.7km Promenade Plantee in Paris, and the 10.9km Cheong-gye-cheon River linear park in Seoul.


While there had been some resistance from motorists in London to the changes, it became easier for them to understand when they saw the wider health context, Saunders said.

"There is always going to be resistance to change, but we find when people see what streets can be like it is easier for them to understand."

Auckland Transport walking, cycling and road safety manager Kathryn King said they were looking increasingly at health outcomes as part of their transport plans.

The Te Ara Mua – Future Streets project in Māngere last year was designed to create safe and healthy streets in an area with low health outcomes, and high road safety risks.

It involved making the streets more comfortable for pedestrians and cyclists, and reducing and slowing down traffic.

"Already we are seeing a lower road risk and more people walking and cycling."

AT would be applying the project to other parts of the city, especially around schools.

Over the past few decades there had been a downward trend in children walking and cycling, during which time obesity rates had increased.

Auckland also had a low rate of walking, making up 14 per cent of trips, compared with 24 per cent in Wellington.

Cycling rates have been increasing in Auckland overall, from 20 per cent in 2014 to 38 per cent this year, and an AT survey this year showed two-thirds of Aucklanders (65 per cent) believed cycle lanes were good for the city and welcomed them in their own communities.

This increase showed if active transport options were made more comfortable for people, they would take them up, King said.

The combined spending of Auckland Council and NZ Transport Agency on walking and cycling infrastructure has increased in Auckland from just over $5 million in 2013 to $33 million in 2017.

With the city tipped to have a million more people by 2050, an increase of at least 40 per cent, AT was focused on further increasing transport options.

"Over the next 10 years there will be a lot more investment in public transport, walking and cycling," King said.

Auckland Council design champion Ludo Campbell-Reid said Saunders' Healthy Streets Approach was a "seminal piece of work" to what his team did.

"Our purpose is to redesign the city to be more human and pedestrian friendly. Having people walking more is the biggest boon for health outcomes."

Pedestrian-friendly projects included the shared spaces around Wynyard Quarter, Fort St, Elliott St and O'Connell St.

They were looking to expand these, with more lower speed zones in the central city, and potentially making downtown car-free.

"The City Rail Link will double the efficiency of the rail network, so it will discourage inner city residents from owning cars."

In October last year Auckland mayor Phil Goff signed the C40 Fossil-Fuel-Free Streets Declaration, along with eleven mayors of major cities from around the world.

Auckland pledged to purchase only zero-emission buses from 2025, and to ensure that Auckland's city centre had zero emissions by 2030.

Campbell-Reid said creating a fossil-free city centre would involve promoting other electric bikes, electric cars and increasing cycling infrastructure and public transport across the city.

Lucy Saunders would be speaking at Auckland Conversations at the ANZ Viaduct Events Centre on Thursday August 2, from 5pm to 7pm.

Her talk could also be viewed online through the Auckland Conversations website.