cars and suburbia

ATTRIBUTE #5 - Suburbia typically creates car-dependent lives for their residents.

Without other options, the further away you live from where you need to go, unless there are other options, the more you need a car and the more cars are needed. That sounds simple. But what are the effects of living like that? On me? On you? On our cities?

Demand for car travel is increasing faster than population growth. Over the last 20 years, Sydney’s population has grown by 21 per cent, while the number of car trips has increased by 41 per cent and the number of cars by 58 per cent. We are even relying on the car for short trips instead of walking or cycling – in Sydney, for example, 55 per cent of all car journeys are less than five kilometres and 33 per cent are less than three kilometres.

Source : NSW State of the Environment. NSW Department of Environment and Conservation. Sydney, December 2006
Also : Sustainable Cities (Report of the Inquiry into Sustainable Cities by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and Heritage). The Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia. Canberra, August 2005

Since 1981, the proportion of children driven to school in NSW has doubled to more than 50 per cent, while the share of children walking and cycling has almost halved to about 20 per cent.

These car trips to school tend to be short and contribute significantly to the demand by families for a second car

The requirement for a second car in a household not only has an effect on car usage but has a dramatic effect on the space requirements on site, the house design or at the very least, the on-street space required. 

Cars are mostly located at or near the front of the property. Increasing car numbers increases the visual dominance of the car on our environment in the form of the cars themselves or in the form of additional garages

Sources : Sydney Metropolitan Strategy – City of Cities: A plan for Sydney’s Future. NSW Department of Planning. Sydney, December 2005 
Also : Smith G and Scott J. Living Cities: An urban Myth? Government and Sustainability in Australia. Dural, Sydney: Rosenburg Publishing, 2006.


  • The density of the built-form has a strong correlation with petrol usage (car usage):

  • The impacts of fuel costs are not borne equally by denizens. The urban form, distances and density have significant impacts on the vulnerability to fuel cost changes as shown by the VAMPIRE study.  The diagram below shows the index results for Sydney.   Similar diagrams are available for other capital cities in Australia:

  • Transport is responsible for 70% of NOx emissions in urban areas
Source : A/Prof Chris Rissel from the USyd Clean Air Forum 2010

  • The transport sector is NSW’s second-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Car use is a significant contributor to this – transport emissions account for 15 per cent of total NSW emissions, and cars account for nearly half of this
Source : NSW State of the Environment 2006. NSW Department of Environment and Conservation. Sydney, December 2006. 
Also : NSW Greenhouse Plan. The NSW Greenhouse Office. Sydney, November 2005

  • Motor vehicle ambient air pollution accounted for
    • between 900 and 2000 early deaths nationally and 
    • between 900 and 4500 morbidity cases— cardio-vascular and respiratory diseases, and bronchitis" 
Source: Bureau of Transport and Regional Economics. Health impacts of transport emissions in Australia:Economic costs. Working Paper 63: Department of Transport and Regional Services, 2005.

  • Of the following typical options, the "average car, driver-only" journeys are the most carbon intensive means of getting around

Source: Australian Greenhouse Office

cars and health
  • Driving to work has a positive correlation with obesity  
 Travel modeProportion  Percent o'weight or obese Adj OR 95% CI
 Driving a car 69% 50.9% 1.13 1.01 - 1.27
 Other than driving 31% 43.3% 1.00 

Adjusted for sex, age, marital status, education, language spoken at home, level of physical activity, and SEIFA index.  
Source: Wen LM, Orr N, Millett C, Rissel C. Driving to work is associated with overweight and obesity: Findings from the 2003 New South Wales Health Survey. International Journal of Obesity online publication 10 January 2006

  • In Sydney, the health costs of motor vehicle emissions are estimated to be between $600 million and $1.5 billion per annum
Source : Health Impacts of Transport Emissions in Australia: Economic Costs, Working Paper 63.  Bureau of Transport and Regional Economics. Canberra, 2005

  • The Centre for International Economics put the cost on Sydney's reliance on cars at $18 billion in 2005, made up of congestion, accidents, air pollution, greenhouse emissions and government subsidies.  This is projected to rise by 32.5 per cent to nearly $24 billion in 2020. Thats $24 Billion.
Source : A city going nowhere fast. Sydney Morning Herald 23 January 2006

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