Active travel: increasing levels of walking and cycling in England Contents


1.The economic, human and environmental costs of inactivity, climate change, air pollution, and traffic congestion are huge. Active travel can help combat all of these.

2.Physical inactivity directly contributes to one in six deaths in the UK and the morbidity it causes costs business and wider society billions of pounds a year.1 Walking or cycling for just 10 minutes a day can contribute towards the weekly 150 minutes of physical activity for adults, as recommended by the UK Chief Medical Officer,2 and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has recently recommended that local authorities prioritise active travel to help people of all ages become more physically active.3

3.In May 2019 Parliament declared an environment and climate emergency,4 and last month the Prime Minister announced that the UK will aim to eradicate its net contribution to climate change by 2050.5 Around a quarter of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transport, and in 2017 over 90% of total domestic transport greenhouse gas emissions were from road transport.6 Road transport is the single biggest contributor to poor air quality and is responsible for some 80% of roadside nitrogen dioxide concentrations.7 The Committee on Climate Change has identified changing people’s mode of travel choice from cars to walking and cycling as one of the things that individuals and households can do to reduce their carbon footprints and help meet UK and global climate goals.8 In 2018 four parliamentary select committees, including this one, recognised the importance of active travel to reducing the detrimental effect private vehicle use has on air quality.9

4.Road congestion is a challenge for towns and cities across the country. Networks planned in the mid-1900s struggle to cope with current volumes of traffic. The number of journeys and the number of vehicles has increased as population has grown. At the end of 2017 there were over 26 million licensed vehicles in England—an increase of over 35% in the last 20 years.10 The number of vehicle miles has increased by 20% of the same period.11 In 2018 drivers in London lost on average 227 hours each to congestion, and in Birmingham 134 hours.12 While congestion is annoying and frustrating it also has an economic cost associated with delays in moving goods and people around the country. Congestion cost the UK an estimated £7.9 billion last year, around £1,300 per driver.13 During our inquiry into Mobility as a Service we were told that various trends—growing urban populations, increasing passenger miles, potentially falling costs per mile—all pointed to a potential congestion pinch-point around 2030.14 Pedestrians and cyclists take up far less space than cars, meaning it is possible to move a much greater number of people through a space if they choose to travel on foot or by bicycle. In addition to passenger movements, in urban areas there is increasing potential for moving goods by cargo bike.15 This reduces the pressures on the road network.

5.As inactivity, climate change, air pollution and road congestion all become more pressing concerns there is an increasingly compelling case for policymakers to give active travel the attention that it has not historically received. The benefits of active travel are many and well understood, but bear repeating. Active travel:

Much of the evidence we received highlighted the benefits of increasing levels of active travel and the costs of failing to do so.16

6.Active travel covers any journey that is made by physically active means, and covers such diverse activities as horse riding, skateboarding, roller skating, and riding a scooter. However, walking and cycling are by far the most common forms of active travel, and it is therefore on these modes that this Report focuses.

Our inquiry

7.In April 2017 the Government published its first Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS), setting targets for increasing levels of walking and cycling in England.17 While the Transport Committee has looked at cycling policy—with a focus on safety—in previous Parliaments,18 this is the first time the Committee has had an opportunity to scrutinise the Government’s plan for walking and cycling in detail. We decided that it was the right time to examine Government policy on active travel and the progress the Department for Transport had made with its Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy.

8.During our inquiry we held five evidence sessions—including one in Manchester—hearing from local and national walking and cycling stakeholder groups, academics and transport planners, local authorities and transport bodies from across the country, Highways England and the then Minister of State for Transport, Jesse Norman MP. As part of our visit to Manchester we held a public engagement event where we heard from members of the public and representatives of local stakeholder groups. We visited Waltham Forest to see the Mini-Holland development and met with Transport for London and Waltham Forest Council. We also received over 130 written submissions. We are grateful to everyone who has contributed to our inquiry and helped inform our work.19

9.Our initial call for evidence for this inquiry was extremely broad, but this report focuses on three mains areas—the Government’s Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy, funding for active travel, and the role of Government when it comes to providing guidance and sharing good practice. We received a significant amount of evidence on other areas—including planning issues, initiatives that can be successful at increasing levels of walking and cycling, and the safety risks to pedestrians and cyclists—which we have published on our website.

2 Department of Health and Social Care, UK physical activity guidelines, July 2011

3 National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, Physical activity: encouraging activity in the community, June 2019

4 Votes and Proceedings, 1 May 2019, item 7

5 Prime Minister’s Office, ‘PM Theresa May: we will end UK contribution to climate change by 2050’, 12 June 2019

6 Department for Transport, Transport Statistics Great Britain 2017, November 2017, page 13

7 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, UK plan for tackling roadside nitrogen dioxide concentrations: Technical report, 2017, page 9

8 Committee on Climate Change, Net Zero: The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming, May 2019

9 Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Environmental Audit, Health and Social Care, and Transport Committees, Fourth Report of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Fourth Report of the Environmental Audit Committee, Third Report of the Health and Social Care Committee, and Second Report of the Transport Committee of Session 2017–19, Improving Air Quality, HC 433, para 64

10 Department for Transport, Vehicle licensing statistics: 2017, Table VEH0204: Licensed cars at the end of the year by region, Great Britain from 1994 ; also United Kingdom from 2014, 12 April 2018

11 Department for Transport, Road traffic estimates in Great Britain: 2018, Table TRA8901: Motor vehicle traffic (vehicle miles) by local authority in Great Britain, annual from 1993

12 INRIX, 2018 Global Traffic Scorecard, accessed June 2019

13 INRIX, 2018 Global Traffic Scorecard, accessed June 2019

14 Mobility as a Service, Eighth Report of Session 2017–19, HC 590

15 Cycling UK (ATR0075) para 41

16 For example: RAC (ATR0025), UK Health Alliance on Climate Change (ATR0033), Urban Transport Group (ATR0042), Living Streets (ATR0062), Local Government Association (ATR0066), Sustrans (ATR0072), Cycling UK (ATR0075)

17 Department for Transport, Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy, April 2017. Because local transport is devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland the Government’s Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy applies only to England, and this Report therefore also only looks at walking and cycling in England.

18 Road safety, Second Report of Session 2012–13, HC 506, Chapter 5, and Cycling safety, Third Report of Session 2014–15, HC 286

19 A full list of those who gave oral and written evidence to the Committee’s inquiry is available at the back of this report.

Published: 23 July 2019