Active Travel

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What is Active Travel?

Active travel involves people getting around on bikes or simply by walking, rather than using cars. This is a great issue to raise with your MP or councillor because, as well as reducing our emissions, it has an array of economic and health benefits. As the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change argues, “active transport is the most cost-effective way to increase physical activity, reduce ill health and cut down emissions from road transport”.

The Transport sector contributes 26% of UK carbon emissions but is also the main contributor to air pollution. Therefore, encouraging more people to cycle or walk can help to tackle both climate change and air pollution. Conservative estimates suggest that walking or cycling could substitute for 41% of short car journeys (less than 3 miles), reducing emissions from transport by 5%.

There are also extensive health benefits to active travel. If the Government meets their cycling and walking targets, as set out in the 2017 Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy, then 12,000 premature deaths could be avoided over a 10-year period. Research by Glasgow University also found that regularly cycling can reduce your chances of getting cancer by 45% and your chances of getting heart disease by 46%. Furthermore, increased active travel would help to address the health effects of air pollution. Air pollution is increasingly being recognised as a major public health problem that leads to asthma, cancer, strokes and heart disease. You can find out more about health impacts of climate change in our health resource.

Active travel is also shown to have economic benefits:

  • Congestion – Reducing car use and encouraging active travel would help to reduce traffic congestion, which is estimated to cost the UK economy £11 billion a year.

  • NHS – Active travel would make the population healthier, reducing demand on the healthcare system. Research by Transport for London found that if every Londoner cycled or walked for 20 minutes a day then the NHS could save £1.7 billion over 25 years.

  • Productivity – Research shows that workers who cycle to work are more productive and take 27% fewer sick days than those who don’t take physical exercise.

Finally, active travel is popular with the public. Polling shows that 69% of residents in urban areas believe their city would be a better place if more people walked or cycled.

What is being done to promote Active Travel?

Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy

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In April 2017, the Government published their Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy. This aimed to “make walking and cycling the natural choices for shorter journeys, or as part of a longer journey”. Specifically, it aimed to double cycling activity by 2025, reduce the rate of cyclists being killed or injured, and reverse the decline in the number of people walking.

The Strategy announced several measures to try and achieve these targets:

  • £1 billion of funding was made available to local authorities to invest in measures to encourage cycling and walking.

  • £50 million was invested to give cycling proficiency training to an additional 1.3 million children

  • £85 million was made available to Highways England to make the road network safer and easier to use for cyclists

Local councils

Local authorities also have a key role to play in encouraging active travel.

Manchester, for example, announced ambitious plans to improve infrastructure for cyclists. In 2018, The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, announced £500 million of spending on one thousand miles of new cycling and walking routes. This brings spending on cycling and walking in the city to £15 per head, similar to cities renowned for good cycling infrastructure, such as Amsterdam and Copenhagen.

Similarly, Cambridge has also taken action to make active travel easier. The city has extensive 20mph speed limits in many residential areas to make cycling safer. Furthermore, there is an extensive network of off-road cycling routes. Finally, the city centre has been designed to minimise traffic congestion, making walking and cycling safer and more pleasant. As a result, Cambridge has the highest levels of cycling of any UK city.

What can I ask my MP or Councillor to do?

  • Sustrans, a charity supporting sustainable transport, believe that default speed limits should be lowered to 20mph for urban roads and 40mph for minor rural roads. This would make cycling safer and more pleasant. Indeed, the risk of being killed is five times higher if a cyclist is hit by a car at 31mph, compared to 18mph. Lowering speed limits below the national limit is a matter for local authorities, so you could discuss this with your local councillor.

  • Sustrans also recommend that all children should be given cycle training in during their school years. This would help to encourage more children to cycle to school, as well as to continue cycling throughout their life. You could ask your MP to write to the Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, to raise this issue.

  • You could talk to your MP about increasing government funding for walking and cycling. A coalition of organisations are calling for 5% of the Department for Transport’s budget to be spent on walking and cycling, rising to 10% by 2025. This would increase spending on walking and cycling from £4.30 per person at the moment, to £34 per person by 2025. You could ask your MP to submit a parliamentary question about the Government’s plans for spending on walking and cycling.

You could talk to your MP or councillor about the examples that have been set by other cities, such as Manchester, Cambridge or Bristol described above. In Spain, the city of Seville has increased the share of cycling from 0.5% of journeys in 2006, to 7%. They did this by introducing 2,500 hire bikes and building 50 miles of cycle tracks in just a year. You could encourage your MP or councillor to support some of these measures.


Date published: 17/01/2019

Last updated: 17/01/2019