Case Studies

RMIT researchers and the Victorian Department of Transport launch a new digital tool to measure the health impacts of replacing car trips with walking and cycling trips for Melburnians.

The new Transport Health Assessment Tool for Melbourne (THAT-Melbourne) calculates the health benefits that come from swapping car trips to walking, cycling or a combination of both.

It is a tool designed for government, policymakers and urban dwellers to better understand the health implications of transport decision-making.

Sitting within the ground-breaking RMIT developed digital platform, the Australian Urban Observatory, THAT-Melbourne is freely available to the public.

Project lead, Dr Lucy Gunn from the RMIT Centre for Urban Research, said the tool addressed a large gap in knowledge that could hopefully lead to better transport planning and investment. 

“We know physical inactivity increases the risk of early death and chronic disease, yet less than half the Australian adult population meet recommended levels of physical activity,” she said.

“One way of increasing physical activity is to walk and cycle and to do this for short trips, which are often undertaken by car.

“The health benefits of doing this are often overlooked in strategic transport planning because they are challenging to estimate, and our tool fills this gap.

“THAT-Melbourne calculates the estimated health benefits that come from swapping short car trips with walking, cycling or a combination of both.

“Having a way to estimate the health benefits from walking and cycling and to show what the impact is in terms of the reduction to chronic disease incidence and mortality provides vital evidence for business cases and for advocating for active transport infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians.

There are also implications for planning, infrastructure and health more broadly, said RMIT Vice-Chancellors Fellow Dr Belen Zapata-Diomedi, who led the modelling work.

“The health impacts are assessed through 20 different scenarios where short car trips for a range of purposes – work, school, shopping, leisure – are replaced with walking, cycling or a combination of both,” she said.

“Once a scenario is selected, the results show the impact on seven chronic diseases including stroke, ischaemic heart disease, diabetes type 2, colon and lung cancer and also for females, breast and uterine cancer.

“For each scenario, the tool shows incidence, mortality and health benefits in terms of life years and health-adjusted life years – which are broad measures of health that include quality of life.

“The tool shows that if Melburnians undertook more short trips by walking or cycling there would be less chronic diseases and better quality of life in the longer term.

“But that’s also why it’s important to be measuring it now, as understanding and quantifying these benefits will hopefully help policy-makers and practitioners as well as individuals understand the health benefits that come from being more physically active.

“Hopefully the results of our tool can be used to advocate for more investment in active travel infrastructure to help make our cities and neighbourhoods healthier and more liveable.”

THAT-Melbourne was developed as part of a larger research partnership project with the Victorian Department of Transport and was funded by an RMIT University Enabling Capability Platform Opportunity Fund on Research Translation and Impact and with in-kind support from the Victorian Department of Transport.

Story: Chanel Koeleman

“One of the most important messages from government during the pandemic has been to work from home if you can. Though what happens if your work isn’t suited to this?”

In our article, AUO Director Melanie Davern, alongside UNSW’s Marylouise McLaws and Dr Ori Gudes, discuss why COVID-19 demonstrates that now more than ever that health is an equity issue and what mapping the data can reveal about work, health and place.

“The related patterns of occupations and COVID-19 incidence remind us of the importance of the well-known relationships between health and place.

“Our mapping provides evidence that can help authorities decide where and how to focus preventive measures when planning public health interventions.”

These new indicators are designed to support communities as they respond to COVID-19, enabling a more granular analysis of community access to Public Open Space, Social Infrastructure and Walkability, as well as a deeper understanding of the pressures on Housing affordability.

The new indicators are:

Social Infrastructure


Public Open Space


Follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter to keep up to date with all the latest news from RMIT University’s Healthy Liveable Cities Group and the Australian Urban Observatory.

RMIT University has launched a new public-facing research website and (of course!) two of our Healthy Liveable Cities Group researchers, Dr Lucy Gunn and Dr Leila Farahani, as well as RMIT Centre for Urban Research colleagues Dr Annette Kroen and Professor Libby Porter, are featured in the lead article. 

The RMIT Centre for Urban Research is home to some of Melbourne’s leading planning and sustainability academics driving the discussion on urban affairs.

In this article, meet four urban experts contributing to the research and conversation that is changing how we plan and build healthy, equitable and liveable cities

UN-Habitat (United Nations Human Settlements Programme) and the World Health Organization has released a new sourcebook ‘Integrating health in urban and territorial planning‘.

The Australian Urban Observatory’s Dr Melanie Davern contributed a regional liveability case study to the associated Compendium of Inspired Practices.

The two publications promote and support health and wellbeing in the practice of urban planning. They are designed as tools to assist national governments, local authorities, planning professionals, civil society organisations, and health professionals, helping to improve planning frameworks through the incorporation of health considerations, at all levels of governance and spatial planning.

It is a powerful document. Based, as we are, in the social determinants of health, it is contains an extensive list of resources for practitioners to explore.

Researchers from RMIT University’s Healthy Liveable Cities Group and Cambridge University have been awarded over $800,000 in funding for a new project which will model and test the benefits of transport planning in creating healthier and more sustainable cities across Australia and the UK.

Funded by the UK Medical Research Council and the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), Distinguished Professor Billie Giles-Corti and Vice Chancellors Research Fellow Belen Zapata Diomedi from RMIT Centre for Urban Research, together with James Woodcock from University of Cambridge, will be leading this new project.

“Currently in the UK, there are no consistent measurements of many important liveability factors, like how easy it is to get to the shops or public transport in different neighbourhoods.

“This means we have not been able to predict what might happen to people’s health if these factors changed.

“This makes it hard for planners to make changes in land use and transport policies, because they don’t have the evidence to show which design changes will benefit the health of communities the most.

“On the other hand, although our team at RMIT have developed detailed measures of liveability (in the Australian Urban Observatory), comprehensive studies linking possible changes in liveability to health outcomes are still missing in Australia.

This work builds on the research Healthy Liveable Cites Group have been doing with CAUL Hub, NHMRC and The Australian Prevention Partnership Centre. Research that also supported the development of liveability measures included in the Australian Urban Observatory.

Join RMIT University and the Urban Futures Capability Platform for two fantastic Active Transport webinars on Wednesday 3rd June.

The Impacts of Active Transport: a Multi-Disciplinary Research and Practice Field 

These webinars brings together the international research and practitioner community in transport impact assessment. 

The webinars will be run at two session times on Wednesday 3rd June –

Session 1 – 17:00 to 20:30h AEST (Australian Eastern Standard Time)
Presenters – Dhirendra Singh, Joseph Stordy, Emily Coldbeck, Bert Van Wee, Audrey de Nazelle, María José Rojo Callizo, Alexandre Santacreu, James Woodcock
Chairs – Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, Belen Zapata Diomedi

Register for Session 1 here.

Session 2 – 17:00 – 20:30h CEST (Central European Summer Time)
Presenters – Rolf Moeckel, Susan Handy, Kelly Clinton, Neil Maizlish, Thomas Götschi, Rachel Aldred, Stefan Gössling, Verónica Sánchez
Chairs – Haneen Khreis, James Woodcock

Register for Session 2 here.

Visit RMIT Centre for Urban Research for more information.

The Australian Urban Observatory was featured in a recent article in The Age.

What can Melburnians learn about their suburb thanks to coronavirus?

Here are the key takeaways:

Not all suburbs are created equally, and not everyone has access to amenities like being able to walk or ride to local parks and supermarkets in their neighbourhood.

• We know that liveability is connected to the social determinants of health. Where you live, learn, work, play, age – those things all influence your health and wellbeing long-term.

• The AUO shows, in map-form, collated research into a range of indicators that contribute to making a place liveable, including walkability, social infrastructure, access to local employment, public transport and public open space.

• People’s lived experience is that access to these amenities improves quality of life.

• There are ways to create liveability in our less-dense middle and outer suburbs like townhouses with rear access for cars, rather than driveways across footpaths.