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Social impacts of congestion

Our municipality is experiencing significant population growth in the outer suburban areas and transport infrastructure has been unable to keep pace with residential development.

Population growth in the City of Whittlesea is expected to increase from 202,731 in 2016 to 333,000 by 2036. Outward growth is occurring in Epping North, Wollert, Mernda, Doreen and Donnybrook with a projected increase in population of 112,763 in these suburbs by 2036.

Inaction to address future transport infrastructure requirements such as roads and public transport will result in an increased reliance on private vehicles as the dominant travel mode. The impacts include increased congestion and travel times for the community and businesses, fewer transport choices and harmful effects to health and wellbeing.

Travel patterns in the City of Whittlesea

Travel patterns of our residents highlight that non-work related trips account for 72.5% of all trips on an average day.

A breakdown of these trips indicates that 71% of these trips have a destination within the municipality and a further 22% have a destination in Darebin, Banyule, Nillumbik, Hume and Moreland.

The journey to work

Data from the 2011 Census revealed that 42,000 residents work outside the municipality and 18,000 residents live and work in the municipality.

The outflow of people driving outside of the municipality to get to work is expected to increase by 65.5% from 2011 to 2031, and there is an expected increase of 27.5% of people coming into the municipality to get to work. Internal journey to work trips are expected to increase by 100.6% during this time.

Cars are the most dominant mode of travel at 93.4% compared to 80.4% for Greater Melbourne. 

Methods of traveling to work: 1.6% walk, .40% cycle and 93.40% private vehicle.

Traffic congestion by 2031

In 2015 we analysed some traffic modelling that indicated that on the basis of future growth, if no changes are made the road network in the City of Whittlesea will experience further delays and congestion in peak travel periods by 2031 (Infraplan, 2015).

This will result in a reduction in average speeds and an increase in travel times.

The road network in our municipality has key peak morning and afternoon congestion points, the most prominent locations include:

  • High Street-Epping Road, north of Cooper Street to O'Herns Road-Findon Road
  • Plenty Road, south of Bridge Inn Road to Riverdale Boulevard
  • Plenty Road, from the Metropolitan Ring Road to Bush Boulevard
  • Cooper Street, west of Miller Street
  • Yan Yean Road, south of Bridge Inn Road
  • Bridge Inn Road from Yan Yean Road to Epping Road

Commute time indicators

Residents who live in the outer suburbs of growth areas are forced to spend 20% longer commuting than people residing in inner suburbs.

Many face higher living costs of thousands of dollars a year due to dependence on long commutes by car. They also face fewer job opportunities, heavy traffic congestion and a reduction in the quality of family and social life.

The VicHealth Indicators Survey (2012) found that our residents struggle with work and time pressures, which are often exacerbated by long commutes. A lack of time impacts on sleep, sharing family meals and spending time with family and friends.

City of Whittlesea residents are:

  • More likely to have a long commute to work (at least 2 hours per day) 17.8% compared to the state average 11.6% (Whittlesea Annual Household Survey 2015)
  • Significantly more like to have inadequate sleep (less than 7 hours per weekday), 41.9% compared to the state average 31.5% (Whittlesea Annual Household Survey 2015)
  • Less likely to report adequate work/life balance, 50% compared to the state average 53.1% (VicHealth 2012)
  • Significantly more likely to experience transport limitations, 30.9% compared to the state average 23.7%

Compared to inner-metropolitan Melbourne, the City of Whittlesea has a higher percentage of 0-19 year olds and an increasing number of people aged over 55, meaning there are higher portions of the population who rely on public transport.

Along with relatively poor access to public transport, many of our residents continue to suffer from social and other disadvantages caused by transport isolation.

The social costs of long commute times

Longer commute time is linked to lower life satisfaction (Stutzer and Frey 2008) and increased absenteeism from the workplace (Hansson et al. 2011, Costa et al. 1988).

Individuals who have long commutes are less likely to have time to spend socialising, or to belong to a sporting group or community organisation (Kelly et al. 2012).

A long commute time also impacts family life. It's a recognised determinant of work-family conflict (Pocock and Masterman-Smith 2006) since it decreases the time available for parents to spend with their families. One study found that over 10% of working parents spend more time commuting than they do with their children (Flood and Barbato 2005).

In the City of Whittlesea, residents fare worse than the metropolitan average (VicHealth 2011). For example:

  • 36.2% have a lack of time for family and friends, compared with the Victorian average of 27.4%
  • 36.9% participate in citizen engagement, compared to the Victorian average of 50.5%
  • 28.1% involved in volunteering compared to the Victorian average 34.3%

The social impacts of long commute times for City of Whittlesea residents.

The health costs of long commute times

Commuting is associated with negative health effects. Long commute times can impact on perceived stress and is also linked with negative health outcomes not directly related to the commute itself, such as short sleeping times and low self-reported health (Hansson et al. 2011).

It can contribute to increased stress levels, more aggressive driver behaviour and increased traffic and accident risks on residential streets as drivers attempt to avoid congested areas (VicHealth 1999).

Time spent commuting can also mean that there is less time available for healthy behaviours such as exercise and relaxation. Not all forms of commuting have negative health impacts. Active forms of commuting such as walking or cycling have many benefits including maintaining a healthy weight and an improved mental state (Lindström 2008).

The percentage of adults in the City of Whittlesea who could be categorised as sedentary (9.1%) is significantly higher than across the state 5.5%). In the City of Whittlesea, residents fare worse than the metropolitan average (VicHealth 2011).

For example:

  • 55.1% of adults are classified as overweight or obese, compared with the Victorian average of 48.6%
  • 12% of residents have been diagnosed with heart disease, compared with the Victorian average of 6.7%
  • 7.1% of residents have Type 2 diabetes, compared to the Victorian average of 4.8%

Although all of these differences cannot be directly linked to transport choices, they match the high levels of car use, long commute times and low levels of walking and cycling in the City of Whittlesea.

The social costs of long commute times in the City of Whittlesea.

Pollution and health impacts

The health impacts of congestion have been studied, here is some evidence that came about from them:

  • poorer air quality in congested traffic conditions emit higher rates of noxious pollutants than under more freely flowing conditions (BITRE, 2007), leading to increased risk of respiratory and other illnesses in the short term and long term (VicHealth, 1999) and higher health costs
  • exposure to vehicle  emissions is not restricted to periods spent outside vehicles or buildings as air pollutants can be inhaled more readily by car users than walkers, cyclists or people using public transport on the same road (Van Wijnen & van der Zee, 1998)