New research has found that cycling and walking receive a tiny fraction of overall transport infrastructure funding in Australia. Researchers believe this is "unacceptable in a wealthy OECD country".
The United Nations has recommended that governments dedicate 20% of transport funding to non-motorised or active transport. To see how Australia compares against this target, we looked at budgets for three capital cities and all the states and territories.
Compared to the widely available expenditures for roads and public transport, it’s hard to pin down spending for cycling and walking. The data are spread across a myriad of documents, and entities report them differently. For example, walking infrastructure figures might be reported separately or bundled with cycling or road projects.
Unclear reporting, in itself, indicates active travel’s low status in the transport funding hierarchy.
To gather the expenditures reported here, we had to draw on a variety of sources. Our data are not perfect or perfectly comparable across time and place, but do indicate relative spending levels.
State and territory spending
The 2015-2016 state and territory budgets are disappointing in that they continue the trend of underfunding active transport infrastructure. The difference between active transport and road funding is staggering: most states devote less than 2% of funding to cycling.
All Australian states and territories are far below the United Nations target of 20%. With the exception of the Australian Capital Territory at 14%, the national average is 1%. Per capita dollar amounts devoted to active transport are low everywhere (under A$20 a year). As a benchmark, Copenhagen – regarded as the world’s best city for cycling – has spent A$30 per capita a year for the past decade.
The future of cycling in Australian cities
This situation reflects the blinkered vision that Australia cannot and need not be a world leader in active travel. Our cities, which have some of the widest roads in the world, are supposedly too difficult to retrofit for walking and cycling. Many older cities overseas have redesigned much narrower streets for active transport.
In Australia any such retrofit requires long public consultation processes. Australians must accept incremental increases in active transport funding while road funding continues to dominate transport budgets.
Not only is this vision shortsighted, it is sexist, ageist and classist. Cars cost their owners more than A$300 per week on average. This limits travel options for youth, low-income people and women. These groups are already vulnerable to transport disadvantage, and failing to fund cycling and walking projects can make their situation worse.
Mediocre active travel infrastructure is unacceptable in a wealthy OECD country. We need and can have world class active travel infrastructure. This type of investment makes economic, health and environmental sense.
This article was co-authored by Dorina Pojani, The University of Queensland; Anthony Kimpton, The University of Queensland; Jonathan Corcoran, The University of Queensland, and Neil Sipe, The University of Queensland. It has been adapted from the original article published on The Conversation.