UK Faculty of Public Health sees ‘huge potential’ for Cycle Superhighways and health

fph-logoThe Faculty of Public Health is the standard-setting body for specialists in public health in the United Kingdom. It is a joint faculty of the three Royal Colleges of Physicians in the UK, and is the home of 3,000 professionals working in public health. For more than 40 years they have been at the forefront of the transformation of the public health profession.

The Faculty sent this letter to TfL outlining the strong public health benefits of the scheme and urging its adoption. The letter points out TfL’s commitments under the Transport Action Plan from February of this year to increase active travel and make streets safe and inviting for all users.

We welcome Transport for London’s proposals for the creation of East-West and North-South cycle superhighways.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends the facilitation of active travel through improvements to infrastructure. The creation of cycle superhighways incorporates one aspect of this, namely the re-allocation of road space to support physically active modes of transport (through widening pavements and introducing cycle lanes). This strategy is particularly appropriate for larger arterial roads, as is the case with the proposed cycle superhighways. Additional strategies to effectively promote active travel include restricting road speed and/or access for motor vehicles.

Most Londoners are currently not sufficiently physically active to stay healthy. Active travel is the main way that Londoners get their physical activity and is the most cost-effective option for increasing physical activity across the population. Changing the street environments to make them more inviting to walk and cycle in will not only improve health but also contribute to reducing health inequalities. It is important to ensure that measures to improve the cycling experience also enhance the walking experience on London’s streets as walking is currently the most accessible physical activity for all Londoners.

The benefits of active travel are multiple and affect the entire urban population:

1. Infrastructure for active travel enables people to exercise as part of their daily routine. Active travel is an effective means to reduce rates of various chronic diseases including obesity and for this reason Public Health England has highlighted the importance of ensuring that areas develop local transport plans setting out achievable objectives to increase the proportion of journeys made by bicycle or by foot. For this reason we welcome TfL’s transport action plan, ‘Improving the health of Londoners’ which sets out the vital importance of making London’s streets healthier to tackle the health challenges the city faces.

2. Increasing the proportion of journeys made by bicycle or by foot and reducing the overall number of journeys made by motor vehicles will improve air quality for Londoners. Air pollution is concentrated along major roads in London, including around some areas of the proposed cycle superhighways, such as Tower Hill. Air pollution, including raised levels of particulate matter and nitrous oxides, is associated with worsened morbidity and mortality from cardiovascular and respiratory disease and certain cancers. , ,

3. Improved road safety is a further potential benefit of developing infrastructure for active travel. Improving safety for cyclists may depend on a range of factors including the volume and speed of motor traffic, the presence of other cyclists on the road and the design of infrastructure which is specifically designated for cyclists. The full segregation of cycle paths from motor vehicles can improve road safety, provided attention is paid to the design of junctions. Consideration of the difficulties for cyclists at junctions with the inclusion of signalised cycle crossings and bus and coach stop bypasses are positive aspects in the designs of the East-West and North-South cycle superhighways. ,

Currently around 25% of Londoners achieve their physical activity needs by travel alone. There is a huge potential for health gains through active travel: TfL itself estimated a gain of 60,000 years of ‘perfect health’ (Disability Adjusted Life Years) were Londoners to swap motorised travel for active travel on short journeys. Infrastructure is key to enable people to engage in active travel. The East-West and North-South cycle superhighways are a welcome step towards achieving TfL’s commitment to improve active travel and demonstrate well its ‘whole-street approach’ to improving health in London.