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Ray White Economics Update 27.05.2024

By Jennifer Clark

How do you measure walkable cities? One way to measure it would be to take a look at reliance on cars. Recently, researchers Rafael Prieto-Curiel from the Complexity Science Hub and Juan P. Ospina from the EAFIT University did just that and ranked 794 cities in 61 countries by their car dependency.

To undertake the global analysis on car dependency, Prieto-Curiel and Ospina had to use data on how people travel to work given that this data is most readily available through each country’s census of population. The analysis assumed that those people that used their cars the most to get to work were seen as being the most car dependent.

Based on this research, European cities came out as being the least car dependent with Spanish cities featuring the most in the top 10. Broadly the research found that smaller cities tend to be less car dependent and wealthier cities are more car dependent.

Australian cities come out as very car dependent, reflecting both our relative wealth to the rest of the world and the spread out nature of our housing. Canberra ranked as the least car dependent while Perth was the most.

While Canberra came out as the least car dependent city in Australia, we can also undertake the same analysis at a suburb level using Australian Bureau of Statistics data. Looking at the suburbs where the most people walk to work show a level of uniqueness that is difficult to apply to most other suburbs.

Topping the list are islands which are mostly car free. Moreton Island requires a permit to drive a 4WD, while Rottnest Island is car free.

Also on the list are three city centres – Hobart, Brisbane and Canberra. Most city centres have very expensive car parks and many of the people living there are doing so for the convenience to their workplace.

Edinburgh in Adelaide is the home to a large RAAF Base – most people who work there also live there.

Getting to work without a car is one way of measuring low levels of car dependency. But some places are walkable but still have a lot of people relying on public transport or their car to get to work. Another way to measure to walkability would be to look at the number of cars per person.

The list of places that have few cars are similar to the list where people walk to work in a number of ways. It includes islands with car free Rottnest Island topping the list. Coasters Retreat, Great Mackeral Beach and Morning Bay in Sydney are inaccessible by car. While not being able to have a car ensures you have to walk more, it also includes CBDs where having a car is less necessary. Residents of Melbourne and Sydney CBDs are likely to not have cars – car parking is expensive and the population resident in these areas tends to be young.

Based on this, what drives walkability? The main one is not being able to have a car – whether that is because the area is not accessible by car or designated car free. Convenience to work is also a factor given how much CBDs appear on both lists. A third factor is the cost of car parking. This would also be a driver in many CBDs. Finally, the age of the population is also a factor – younger people are less likely to drive than older people, even if they are at driving age.

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