A 230-kilometre network of walking and cycling paths that connect the Hunter is part of a project designed to tackle obesity and promote an active lifestyle.
The proposed $164 million CycleSafe Network would be the basis of an Australian-first study into the economic, health and environmental benefits of building “active travel infrastructure” by offering a safer, easier way for people to commute to work, study and school.
The CycleSafe Network Committee behind the proposal will release a report next week which will be used to lobby the NSW Government for funding.
If supported by the state government, the seven-year project would add an additional 140 kilometres of pathways to existing infrastructure throughout Newcastle and Lake Macquarie.
It would link suburbs from as far as Swansea, Teralba, Beresfield and Williamtown through to the inner city suburbs of Newcastle.
The CycleSafe Network Committee includes representatives from the University of Newcastle’s Tom Farrell Institute for the Environment, HMRI, Newcastle Cycleways Movement and the Heart Foundation.
Committee chairperson Megan Sharkey said current methods used to determine the cost benefits of cycling infrastructure were flawed, as analysis tools were not designed to include health and environmental factors as there was no solid “baseline data” for comparison.
But studying the effects of building an active travel network both before and after the project’s completion would provide a more accurate template for the rest of Australia to use when considering the costs, risks and benefits of future projects.
“We have the opportunity to do a research study around the CycleSafe Network and actually derive these numbers to be able to say, ‘This is the real benefit’,” Ms Sharkey said.
“We could do that by doing a before, and establishing a baseline, and another in seven years to see the return.”
Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics suggests 1.1 per cent of people in Lake Macquarie and Newcastle currently cycle to work.
The committee anticipates the new infrastructure would encourage more than 14,500 people living within a kilometre of the network to commute more regularly, which would help meet state and federal government targets for childhood obesity and cycling.
“The government has a 5 per cent target for cycling and a 5 per cent target for reduction in childhood obesity,” Ms Sharkey said.
The network’s success relied on it being family-safe, easy to navigate, and having “end-of-trip” amenities – such as bike racks – at key local centres, businesses and transport interchanges.