Planning and transport agencies play a vital role in influencing the design of townscapes, travel modes and travel behaviors, which in turn impact on the walkability of neighbourhoods and residents’ physical activity opportunities. Optimising neighbourhood walkability is desirable in built environments, however, the population health benefits of walkability may be offset by increased exposure to traffic related air pollution. This paper describes the spatial distribution of neighbourhood walkability and weighted road density, a marker for traffic related air pollution, in Sydney, Australia. As exposure to air pollution is related to socio-economic status in some cities, this paper also examines the spatial distribution of weighted road density and walkability by socio-economic status (SES).
We calculated walkability, weighted road density (as a measure of traffic related air pollution) and SES, using predefined and validated measures, for 5858 Sydney neighbourhoods, representing 3.6 million population. We overlaid tertiles of walkability and weighted road density to define “sweet-spots” (high walkability-low weighted road density), and “sour- spots” (low walkability-high weighted road density) neighbourhoods. We also examined the distribution of walkability and weighted road density by SES quintiles.
Walkability and weighted road density showed a clear east-west gradient across the region. Our study found that only 4 % of Sydney’s population lived in sweet-spot” neighbourhoods with high walkability and low weighted road density (desirable), and these tended to be located closer to the city centre. A greater proportion of neighbourhoods had health limiting attributes of high weighted road density or low walkability (about 20 % each), and over 5 % of the population lived in “sour-spot” neighbourhoods with low walkability and high weighted road density (least desirable). These neighbourhoods were more distant from the city centre and scattered more widely. There were no linear trends between walkability/weighted road density and neighbourhood SES.
Our walkability and weighted road density maps and associated analyses by SES can help identify neighbourhoods with inequalities in health-promoting or health-limiting environments. Planning agencies should seek out opportunities for increased neighbourhood walkability through improved urban development and transport planning, which simultaneously minimizes exposure to traffic related air pollution.