10 February 2010
The Department for Transport and the Department of Health published their Active Travel Strategy in February 2010. It incorporated a new National Cycle Plan, which promised to launch a "Decade of Cycling" in England.
Cyclists in central London

The Strategy [2] noted that cycling currently accounts for less than 2% of trips in Britain, a very low proportion by comparison with many of our continental neighours, and it set out to significantly increase this. CTC welcomed the Strategy's recognition of the benefits of cycling, and particularly the acknowledgement that, compared to its health benefits, "The actual risk of cycling is tiny."

There is one cyclist death per 33 million kilometres of cycling, while being sedentary presents a much greater risk. Over 50,000 people die in the UK each year due to coronary heart disease related to insufficient physical activity, compared to around 100 cyclists killed on the road. Research suggests that safety risks are outweighed by the health benefits by a factor of around twenty to one." Active Travel Strategy

We were also pleased that the Strategy cited the findings of a Cabinet Office Strategy Unit report on Urban Transport [3]. It showed that, in terms of economic impact, the annual costs of congestion (£10.9bn), road casualties (£8.7bn), air quality (£4.5 - 10.6bn) and physical inactivity (£9.8bn) were all of a similar magnitude. CTC believes that, for several decades, urban transport planning has been dominated by attempts to tackle congestion through increased road capacity, at the expense of the other three issues.  We were therefore pleased that the Strategy recommended more effort to promote walking and cycling as a solution to all four.

The Strategy was accompanied by the publications evaluating the successes achieved by the Cycling Demonstration Towns [4] (CDT) and the Sustainable Travel Demonstration Towns (STDT) programmes. Among the first tranche of CDTs, there has been an average increase in cycling of 27% and a 10% reduction in the proportion of their populations who are classed as physically inactive. The programme's health benefits alone outweigh the costs by 2.59:1. Meanwhile the STDTs increased cycle use per resident by 26-30% and reduced car trips per resident by 9%. Darlington (which is both a CDT and a STDT) increased cycle use by 113% in 3 years.

The Active Travel Strategy aimed to build on these successes and noted that “fewer cars and more pedestrians and cyclists can make the roads safer for all users”. Key measures include:

  • Getting the built environment right
  • More 20mph schemes
  • Promotion of cycling through schools and colleges
  • Joint work with the health sector
  • More cycle training