Active communities

Promoting and enabling more ‘active’ travel modes such as walking and cycling enables people to integrate increased physical activity into their everyday lives.

This has multiple benefits:

  • Reduced road traffic accidents: There is strong evidence that interventions to change traffic conditions (such as cutting speed limits) reduce road accidents. This is important: according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA) almost 27,000 people died or were seriously injured in road traffic accidents in Britain in 2009. The Marmot Review highlighted that disadvantaged communities are much more likely to be affected.
  • Reduced greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution from traffic, benefiting those suffering from respiratory illnesses.
  • Physical activity not only contributes to wellbeing, it is essential for good health. Increasing physical activity levels in the population will help prevent or manage over 20 conditions and diseases. This includes coronary heart disease, diabetes, some cancers and obesity. It can also help to improve mental health (NICE, 2008).
  • Reduced social isolation: Those living in “walkable neighbourhoods” are more likely to know their neighbours, participate politically, trust others, and be socially engaged (Leyden 2005).
  • Reducing health inequalities: The adverse health effects of transport fall disproportionately on the most vulnerable groups, generally those living in poorer communities who suffer from a more “obesogenic” environment which discourages active travel and active play, and who experience more accidents.

“Transport policies have an important role to play in facilitating sustainable development but also in contributing to wider sustainability and health objectives.”

NPPF, 2012

High land use densities, a mixture of land uses including housing and jobs, good ‘permeability’ for pedestrians and cyclists and the provision of convenient, traffic calming, safe and attractive routes and facilities (e.g. cycle parking, showers at work) for bicycles and pedestrians can increase walking and cycling (Active Community Environments, undated; (Living Streets, 2011; NICE, 2008).

In other words an integrated approach to neighbourhood planning is required, bringing together planning, health, transport and environmental sustainability expertise.

“In the South East, people travel further on average than in any other region, at over 8,300 miles per person per year. Correspondingly, the region has a larger proportion of the UK’s road traffic than any other…”

Kent Local Transport Plan, 2011 – 2016
  • Health economic assessment tool (HEAT) for cycling and walking– the WHO has developed this online tool to estimate the value of reduced mortality that results from regular walking or cycling.
  • Physical activity return on investment tool – this NICE tool has been developed to help decision making in physical activity programme planning (the interventions included in the tool include investment in walking and cycling infrastructure) at local and sub-national levels. The tool enables the user to evaluate a portfolio of interventions in their geographical area (e.g. region, county or local authority) and models the economic returns that can be expected in different payback timescales.
  • Health contacts
  • Planning contacts
  • NICE public health guidance on the promotion and creation of physical environments – provides evidence-based recommendations on how to improve the physical environment to encourage physical activity, as well as a review of the evidence available.
  • Walking and cycling: local measures to promote walking and cycling as forms of travel or recreation – guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) that aims to set out how people can be encouraged to increase the amount they walk or cycle for travel or recreation purposes.
  • Active design guidelines: Promoting physical activity and health in design – New York City has produced Active Design Guidelines which provides guidance on creating healthier buildings, streets, and urban spaces. The Guidelines demonstrate that active design will help to reduce energy consumption, increase sustainability, and be cost effective.
  • Improving the health of Londoners – Transport action plan – produced by Transport for London, this action plan includes a section on tools and decision making.
  • Obesity and the Environment: Increasing Physical Activity and Active Travel– Public Health England/Local Government Association, 2013.
  • Sustrans design manual: Handbook for cycle-friendly design – published in 2014, this handbook aims to provide detailed technical advice on key issues around on and off highway cycle infrastructure whilst signposting users to this developing library of further resources.

Community-led street design, Turnpike Lane, Haringey – Sustrans work with local residents and other partners to create high quality urban environments that promote sustainable travel and are safe and pleasant to live in and visit. Key elements in creating “liveable neighbourhoods” are safe and enjoyable walking and cycling routes and well-located amenities such as local shops, schools, and green open space. Sustrans’ DIY Streets project in the London Borough of Haringey (2010 – 2012) sought to tackle a number of challenges highlighted by local people including:

  • high traffic speeds and rat running, which led to concerns over safety for pedestrians and cyclists
  • walking and cycling infrastructure was disconnected and poor quality, with underused green and public spaces
  • anti-social behaviour concerns, with fly tipping and dog fouling an issue

Infrastructure improvements and better lighting resulted in a more joined up and safer local walking and cycling network. Over 40 trees were planted along the streets, electric car charging points and public art were installed with drivers encouraged to slow. The outcome included:

  • 10% average reduction in traffic volume at monitoring sites
  • 23% increase in traffic travelling 20mph or less
  • 61% increase in residents who felt the street was attractive
  • 34% increase in residents who felt the street is place to socialise.

Bristol City Council 20mph rollout – In July 2012, following a successful pilot scheme, Bristol City Council voted to bring in a 20 mph speed limit throughout Bristol. The lower speed limit is proposed to be introduced in six phases which started with central Bristol on 20 January 2014 and is proposed to continue until March 2015. The project is being driven be concerns about safety (slower speeds will make the streets safer for everyone, reducing the number and severity of collisions), health (with lower road speeds, walking, cycling and outdoor play become more attractive) and the creation of less noisy and more people-centred communities. It forms part of a wider package of measures to encourage walking and cycling.

Plymouth Health Impact Assessment and transport scheme