Investing in walkable cities

Investing in walkable cities

The socioeconomic benefits of active transport

The 2024 Federal Budget has announced a $100 million National Active Transport Fund to upgrade and deliver new bicycle and walking paths in our cities and regional centres.

This new funding commitment recognises a policy shift at a Commonwealth level towards investing in transport infrastructure that delivers health, wellbeing, and social outcomes.

The National Active Transport Fund guidelines will be developed in consultation with states and territories and are expected to be made public ahead of a 1 July 2025 start.

In this 2024 Federal Budget Analysis, BDO's Project & Infrastructure Advisory Manager, Jane Overington, explores the case for active transport.

Funding Active Transport

Historically, active transport has been the responsibility of states, territories, and local governments. However, a policy shift in the 2024 Budget recognises that it is the responsibility of all tiers of government and emphasises the role of the Australian Government in achieving the benefits of active transport.

Why invest in active transport?

Active transport refers to walking and bike riding both as a means of transport and for recreation. There are many social and economic benefits of investing in active transport, including:

  • Enhancing liveability by connecting people to local services such as schools and shops
  • Activating precincts by inviting connections and a means for social interaction
  • Supporting health outcomes through increased physical activity
  • Enabling an efficient public transport system by providing better connectivity
  • Delivering economic outcomes through increased property values and high-street commerce
  • Achieving environmental targets by providing more sustainable transport options.

Enhancing liveability and supporting health and wellbeing outcomes

The uptake of active transport is an indicator of the liveability of our cities and regional centres. More than any other transport mode, active transport can improve physical activity, well-being, and social inclusivity. The evidence is clear: Walking and bike riding bring life to our public spaces.

Our environment influences our health by supporting opportunities to engage in physical activity. With about a third of the Australian adult population considered insufficiently physically active, and the majority of children not meeting the Australian physical activity guidelines, there is a case for investing in active transport for health and wellbeing benefits. There are clear links between walking for transport and public health benefits.

Enabling an efficient transport network

As most public transport journeys start or end with a walking trip, active transport is a critical enabler for an efficient public transport system in our growing cities. Well-planned and efficient public transport systems contribute to productivity gains. An integrated transport and land use approach creates connected places where people have easy access to essential services, education, and work.

With the Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games on the horizon, active transport will play a significant role in efficiently moving spectators between venues. The quality of the walking infrastructure will leave a lasting impression on those attending the Games.

Achieving environmental benefits

From an environmental standpoint, active transport aligns with the government’s sustainability agenda as it is a zero-emissions means of travel. The infrastructure needed to support good walking and cycling outcomes has a relatively lower environmental footprint than that of other modes of transport. Active transport infrastructure also provides more opportunities for shade protection through increased urban tree canopy and greenery, addressing urban heat challenges while improving the overall quality of public spaces.

Delivering economic benefits and return on investment

There is growing evidence of active transport’s role in supporting local economies by increasing local commerce as well as the broader economic impacts on rental incomes, property values and development. People want to live in walkable, connected communities and are willing to pay to do so.

Recent research suggests that investing in better walking infrastructure can provide a higher return than other transport infrastructure such as rail and road. A study commissioned by the Queensland Government found that, on average, every $1 invested in walking interventions returns almost $13 in decongestion, health, and environmental benefits. Another economic study has shown that for every $1 invested in bike riding infrastructure, $5 is returned to the State.

Getting the investment right

To capture the social and economic benefits of active transport, it is important to factor in broader considerations around behaviour change, infrastructure design, whole-of-life costs, and stakeholder engagement.

Realising the benefits of active transport

Encouraging more walking and bike riding goes beyond delivering great infrastructure. It requires behavioural change and a willingness to take up walking and bike riding for short trips. We are witnessing some very encouraging active transport behaviour change programs, such as ‘walk to work’ and ‘walk to school’ days, as well as step challenges that promote the health and wellbeing benefits of walking and bike riding. These are important as it is only through uptake that the value of active transport assets is realised.

Beyond the footpath

Designing places to walk and ride goes beyond the asphalt. It is integral that walking and bike riding paths are safe and inviting and offer places to stop and rest. Considering the integration of shade, greenery, lighting, and interesting things to see and do, such as parklets, helps to achieve this.

Capturing data and measuring performance

As the adage goes, if you can measure it, you can manage it. By counting the number of trips taken along walking and riding trails, it is possible to quantify the benefits of active transport infrastructure and more accurately make the case for additional network investments.

Whole-of life costs

Paths that are well maintained are safer and more inviting. However, ongoing maintenance of new assets comes at a cost, and it is important to appropriately consider this when designing and delivering new walking and bike-riding infrastructure.

A coordinated approach through stakeholder engagement

Achieving a coordinated approach to delivering walk and bike-riding infrastructure means engaging with local, state and federal governments and user groups to ensure the right investment decisions are made. This means prioritising the highest needs first, delivering value for money, and integrating with land use outcomes. Engaging with user groups enables a co-design approach and opportunities to embed principles of accessibility, inclusivity, and community buy-in.

BDO’s multi-disciplinary approach to active transport

Our national Project & Infrastructure Advisory team has expertise in urban planning, architecture, transport, infrastructure delivery, commerce, and real estate.

We understand the relationship between transport and place-making and work with government agencies and organisations to:

  • Advocate for effective and fit-for-purpose design outcomes by applying targeted insight
  • Shape policy on active transport, infrastructure, and precinct developments
  • Plan, design and deliver innovative transport infrastructure and place-making projects
  • Review and prioritise infrastructure investment to deliver the right project at the right time
  • Mobilise grants programs through practical hands-on support
  • Lead stakeholder engagement and communication strategies
  • Measure the social, environmental, and economic impacts of investing in active and connected communities.

Contact us to see how we can help you.

BDO's Federal Budget analysis

Our team provides detailed commentary on the economic measures announced by the Federal Government. Read our expert insights to understand how the Federal Budget impacts you.