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Keywords:

  • active travel;
  • cycling;
  • health;
  • physical activity;
  • Sustrans;
  • walking

Summary

Past transport policies have tended to prioritise private motorised transport above health-enhancing, low-emission active travel – walking and cycling. Decision makers, most of whom are drivers themselves, suffer from the ‘windscreen perspective’ and have difficulty seeing the issues around transport policy in a clear way. As a result, policy and investment planning still lean towards the car.

However, a range of factors now all point towards active travel for local trips. Climate change, peak oil, security of energy supply, road safety, noise and local air pollution all back up the arguments in favour of active travel as an easy and accessible way to incorporate physical activity into daily life. As forms of physical activity, walking and cycling offer valuable protection against cardiovascular disease, various forms of cancer, type 2 diabetes, depression and other forms of mental ill-health, while also helping to maintain bone strength and fitness. Over the past decade, the evidence has accumulated and public health policy is now firmly in favour of active travel.

It is also now clear that there is great potential to shift large numbers of sedentary, motorised trips to active travel, with all the health and other benefits that would bring. Britons are using motorised transport for large numbers of short journeys, many of which could easily be walked or cycled.

The move of public health back into local government offers a real opportunity to influence transport policies and practice. Public health teams may be able to develop collaboration with their transport colleagues. The capital budgets of local authority transport departments can be used to improve the walking and cycling environment, while public health revenue funds could support individuals to adapt their behaviour and profit from those physical changes.