By John Kerr 30/08/2016

It seems the weather is no excuse. New Zealand’s cold, wet and windy urban centers are also where the most people get out walking and cycling. 

Source: NZTA
Source: NZTA

The findings come from a new report examining levels of active transport – getting around by foot or bicycle – and overall population health in New Zealand’s six largest cities.

The aim of the report, Benchmarking cycling and walking in six New Zealand cities, is to provide a tool for officials, advocates and researchers to track progress in each city and to support ongoing investment in cycling and walking.

Read more about the report on 

No rain checks for active transport

“We found some surprising results, such as that the weather does not necessarily influence whether more people cycle and walk,” says lead researcher Dr Caroline Shaw in a media release.

“For example, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin with their colder, wetter and windier climates had the highest levels of people walking and cycling for transport.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the University of Otago research found that the centers with the highest levels of active transport had lower levels of harm to health from inactivity-related conditions, such as high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes (drawing on data from the New Zealand Health Survey 2011-2014).

Active transport
Comparing cycling and walking levels and diabetes across six cities. Source: Benchmarking cycling and walking in six New Zealand cities.

Bike lanes ≠ bikes

All the cities had basic cycling and walking infrastructure, but this varied widely from city to city, found the report.

“We found that on-road cycle lanes without physical protection from cars do not particularly appear to be associated with high levels of cycling,” says Dr Shaw.

“For example, Tauranga and Hamilton report the highest percentage of roads with these types of cycle lanes (15 and 18 per cent of roads), but levels of cycling for transport in these cities are still quite low.”

More cycling infrastructure doesn't appear to be linked with more cycling. Image source: NZTA
More cycling infrastructure doesn’t appear to be linked with more cycling. Image source: NZTA

Mental health curveball

The research also threw up another unexpected result:  in cities with higher levels of cycling and walking there were higher levels of diagnosed depression, bipolar disorder or anxiety. The authors noted the link was not a particularly strong statistical relationship and acknowledge there may be other factors at play:

“The mental health data were slightly unusual, showing higher levels of people with doctor-diagnosed depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety in cities with higher levels of physical activity. Diagnosis, access to primary and secondary care, cultural factors and, possibly, disclosure of diagnosis to survey interviewers may explain this finding.”

You can watch Dr Caroline Shaw presenting more data from the report in the video below.


Featured image: Flickr / Andrea Schaffer

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