Governments must prioritise active travel as public health measure, Edinburgh academics warn

Written by Tom Freeman on 10 April 2018 in News

School travel routes increasingly unhealthy due to prioritisation of the car, academics tell UK and devolved transport ministers

Walking school bus - University of Salford

A group of academics from two universities in Edinburgh have written to transport ministers across the UK calling for increased investment in active travel.

Safe routes to school are being denied to children, the letter suggests, leading to poorer outcomes in physical and mental health as well as exposing them to dangerous levels of pollution.

Scotland’s transport minister Humza Yousaf, UK minister Chris Grayling and Welsh counterpart Ken Skates should use ten per cent of their budget on active travel, the group said.

Researchers into physical activity at University of Edinburgh, Professor Christopher Oliver, Dr Paul Kelly and Dr Graham Baker with Edinburgh Napier’s Professor Adrian Davis and cycling campaigner Dave du Feu, have also written a paper on the subject in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.    

It shows the average length of a journey to school has nearly doubled since the 1980s, while rising traffic levels have had a knock on effect about fears over road safety.

This means many more drive their children to school, exposing them and others to pollution and denying them necessary daily exercise.

“We need to take action because children’s independent mobility has declined sharply across the UK since the 1970s, when it was first measured,” the letter stated.

“We see this not least in terms of increasing car use for the school journey. This reflects the fact that across these four decades politicians and highway engineers have planned for increased car use.”

Some initiatives to tackle the issue have already taken place across the UK, such as Cycle Demonstration Towns and Sustainable Travel Towns programmes in England, the London Cycle Superhighways, and the Smarter Choices, Smarter Places programme in Scotland.

The academics advocate more radical safe route options, across communities, similar to schemes in Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavia.

Davis said: “The ‘windscreen perspective’ of cars first and pedestrians and cyclists last has to end if today’s and future generations are to lead healthier and more physically active lives, which can only happen with safer streets to reduce road danger.

“This will bring many other benefits including cleaner air, less congestion, and better towns and cities. We must give back to children the independent mobility that adults enjoyed by physically making safer streets. This will benefit all. But it will only happen if politicians choose to prioritise active travel.”

The Scottish Government has said inspiration has been drawn from the Netherlands for its plans to double funding active travel to £80m.

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