New government figures reveal cycling accounts for just 2% of all journeys made in England.
Despite significant advances in our understanding of the long-term health benefits of an active life, the National Travel Survey – published on Tuesday by the Department for Transport1 – shows that levels of cycling and walking in the UK have remained stationary for the seventeenth year in a row.
Since 2002, cycling has accounted for just 2% of all trips made in England, while the average number of cycling trips made per person per year has decreased by one in 2018 to just 17. The reduction in individual cycling trips, paired with a modest increase in average distance cycled per person, may show greater mobility (longer commutes etc.), rather than an attitudinal shift towards choosing to cycle rather than driving. The Department for Transport aims to double cycling trips between 2013 and 20252.
The number of trips made on foot has also remained fairly steady, from 264 in 2002 to 262 in 2018 – although the number of miles walked per person per year has risen fractionally by 2% over the same period.
The car remains the most frequent mode of travel for all journeys over one mile, constituting around 61% of average miles travelled. In fact, between 2015-2018, car trips (either as a driver or a passenger) increased by 3%. Meanwhile, car ownership continues to rise, up from 1.09 cars/vans per person in 2002, to 1.21 in 2018 – only 1.5% of which are electric.
In the context of the UK’s recently adopted net-zero targets, these results show an urgent need for significant behaviour change.
Scarlett McNally, Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon and Council member of the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, said:
“Active travel is the ‘best buy’ to reduce outdoor air pollution and improve public health – the more people who are walking or cycling, the fewer who are driving polluting cars. Exercise also greatly improves our physical and mental health, so the scale of the potential win-win effect is huge.
“Behaviour change may seem difficult, but we have done it for dog poo and plastic bags. The UK Government needs to tackle the major disincentives to walking and cycling by building more safe cycle lanes, increasing cycle parking spaces, and re-training drivers to protect and respect all road users.”
The total cost of inactivity to the UK is over £20 billion a year3 and, although Department for Transport calculations have consistently shown that walking and cycling schemes produce much better return on investment than most motor transport schemes4, the Government currently spends less than 5% of its transport budget on active travel.5
UKHACC calls for investment in active travel to be increased to £10 per capita by 2020, as part of the forthcoming Environment Bill.6 Acting on climate change is one of the greatest opportunities to improve health across the UK and the world, but to do so we need to rethink the way we travel.
Nicky Philpott, Director of the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, said:
“Active travel, such as cycling and walking, not only directly improves our physical and mental health, but also contributes to reductions in hazardous emissions from diesel and petrol-fuelled vehicles.
“Boosting levels of cycling and walking is a challenge that we urge the new Transport Secretary to commit to tackling. The UK Health Alliance on Climate Change (UKHACC) calls for the creation of a national ‘Active Travel Scheme’ – to provide funding to households and businesses to incentivise them to move away from polluting vehicles.”
Joe Irvin, Chief Executive, of Living Streets, said:
“Walking is the healthiest, most environmentally friendly way to make short journeys. Over half (51%) of car/van trips in England are under two miles, even though 42% of the public say they could make many of these car journeys on foot.
“With a growing crisis in health due to inactivity, air pollution and climate change, it’s more important than ever to make walking the natural choice for our local, everyday journeys – such as the walk to school. The Government should continue to invest in cost-effective behaviour change programmes to encourage more walking.”
- Department for Transport, 2019. National Travel Survey. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/national-travel-survey-2018
- Department for Transport, 2019. Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy. https://bit.ly/2A1E0hp
- Royal College of Physicians, 2018. Reducing air pollution in the UK: Progress report 2018, London. https://bit.ly/2IMZg0g
- Department for Transport, 2014. Claiming the Health Dividend: A summary and discussion of value for money estimates from studies of investment in walking and cycling. http://bit.ly/1GuHF3p
- HM government and Mayor of London, 2014. Moving More, Living More; The Physical Activity Olympic and Paralympic Legacy for the Nation. Publ: Cabinet office. https://bit.ly/2EaMY09
- UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, 2018. Moving beyond the air quality crisis. http://www.ukhealthalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Moving-beyond-the-Air-Quality-Crisis-4WEB-29_10-2018-final-1.pdf
Notes for editors:
The UK Health Alliance on Climate Change represents over 650,000 health professionals advocating for responses to climate change which protect and promote public health. Our vision is a world in which health is improved as climate change is solved.
Our members include leading health bodies such as The Royal Colleges of Physicians, GPs and Surgeons, the Royal College of Nursing, the British Medical Association, the British Medical Journal, and The Lancet.
Climate change is the greatest health threat of the 21st century, but action on climate change could bring major co-benefits to health. The Alliance was formed in reaction to these profound threats and opportunities and seeks to drive an accelerated policy response.
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