All About Active Travel

PDF Print

Active Travel Improves Health

Twenty-seven percent of children and 61% of adults in Scotland do not meet recommended levels of physical activity. Physical inactivity is known to increase the risk of developing a number of conditions including obesity, diabetes, heart disease and bowel cancer. Obesity levels in Scotland are increasing. In 2012 27% of adults were obese and 16.8% of children were at risk of obesity (weight at or above 95th percentile).

Walking and cycling for everyday short journeys is the easiest and cheapest way of building more physical activity into busy lives. It helps to protect against physical ill health and helps to maintain good mental health.

Countries which have invested in walking and cycling infrastructure over a period of time have obesity rates which are less than half of Scotland’s. Encouraging healthy habits such as walking and cycling throughout the population will lead to people leading longer, healthier lives.

Health care costs arising from physical inactivity amount to £94m/year(or approximately £18 per Scottish resident per year). If people become more active through walking and cycling this will relieve the financial burden on tax payers and state alike. For example, a study of cycling in Glasgow found that the annual health economic benefit from cycle trips into and out of Glasgow city centre in 2012 was over £4 million.

Walking is also by far the most popular form of recreational physical activity; and visits to local parks and open space are increasingly the most popular outdoor recreational destinations. People value and enjoy their local green spaces. To encourage more physical activity it makes sense to ensure access to local green space by foot or bike is as easy and pleasant as possible.  

Active Travel Improves our Environment

Transport emissions accounted for 21.5% of Scotland’s total greenhouse gas emissions in 2011, second only to energy supply. Emissions from road transport dominated (88.5%) with 49.5% of transport emissions from cars alone. With 26% of all driver journeys being less than 2km and over 50% less than 5km many more journeys can be made by walking and cycling. This would significantly reduce emissions and improve air quality.

The total number of cars and vans available to households in Scotland in 2011 was 2.5 million, compared with 2.0 million in 2001. This is an increase of 21% between 2001 and 2011, meaning the number of cars or vans available to households grew faster than the overall population (5 % increase) and number of households (8% increase). By 2012 we had 2.7 million vehicle registrations in Scotland.

More vehicles and more vehicle journeys on Scotland’s roads mean more traffic congestion, more emissions and poorer quality of life.

People living on streets with heavy traffic volume and higher traffic speeds have far less social contact compared with people living on lightly trafficked streets. They go out less often, spend less time outdoors and have fewer local friends.  More people walking and cycling and driving less will help to make our streets pleasanter places to live.

By 2035 there will be 0.74 million people aged 75+ in Scotland – increasing by 84% from 2008 and accounting for 13% of the total population. Walking is the most important form of travel for older people. It will become increasingly important to ensure that our streets and spaces encourage older people to walk in them with confidence.

Walking, with cycling a close second, is accepted as being the most sustainable form of transport. It is emission free. It helps to make our neighbourhoods, towns and cities more sociable. More active travel will result in less traffic congestion and better air quality.

Active Travel Saves Money and Supports Local Economies

At August 2013 petrol prices, annual savings from replacing 5 short car journeys per week with walking or cycling are calculated at:

2            £109.20
3            £163.80
5            £275.60

In addition, people walking and cycling around their neighbourhoods are more likely to buy locally. This supports local shops and business, helping to keep communities vibrant and resilient.

Major road building projects do little to support local jobs and economies as much of the work goes to overseas companies. On the other hand, smaller scale active travel projects tend to use local suppliers and employ local people - realising economic as well as environmental and health benefits.

Active Travel is Money Well Spent

The multiple benefits that come from everyday walking and cycling include:

  • increased physical activity,
  • better health,
  • improved air quality, 
  • reduced emissions and
  • nicer places in which to live and work.

Because of this, any money spent by Scottish Government or local authorities on improving conditions and encouraging active travel will be money well spent. A recent review of investment in active travel infrastructure found that, when all benefits were considered and valued, the average benefit-cost ratio (BCR) is 13:1. For UK interventions only, the average BCR is 19:1. In comparison, road transport schemes that return a BCR of 2:1 are considered high value for money.

This high level of return on money spent also applies to initiatives to change behaviour even without any infrastructure development. Paths for All analysed the impact of the Glasgow Health Walk programme between April 2011 and March 2012 and found that for every £1 invested in Health Walks in Glasgow, there were £8 of benefits generated for people and society. Benefits include:

  • improved fitness and physical health,
  • increased confidence and self-esteem,
  • stronger social networks,
  • less social isolation,
  • improvement in disease or slowing of deterioration,
  • improved mood and feelings of happiness and positivity.

This means that the many benefits to people and society from active travel will help Scottish Government and councils to meet their health, economic and carbon reduction targets and priorities.

© 2014 Paths for All - Registered Scottish Charity No: SC025535, Company Limited by Guarantee No: 168554 inc. 19 Sept 1996 at Companies House, Edinburgh