Institutional partnership in promoting cycling and walking

8th Annual Public Health Forum: Partnership, Participation & Power, Harrogate International Centre, 28-29 March 2000.

Wide-ranging evidence exists to support the case for promoting cycling and walking in the sphere of transport. They have considerable scope for improving the quality of our lives, and for extending healthy longevity and thereby reducing the burden on the health service. These benefits are now recognised in two key domains – individual health and community health.

There is a third domain of public policy, in my view the most critical, namely, planetary health which points to the need for far more attention being paid to the future role of cycling and walking.

However, the scale of action appropriate to the scale of the benefits to individual health, community health and what could be termed planetary health falls well short of what could be reasonably expected. It is clear that the wider adoption of active lifestyles in which cycling and walking play a significant part requires more effective partnership than exists at present between the agencies of health, transport and the environment. All of their policy objectives would be furthered in this way.

Many obstacles can be identified as standing in the way of promoting this wider partnership:

  • MESSAGES which are clearly contradictory or, at the least, misleading can be inferred from public policy statements and documents, yet they inform decision-making.
  • MEASURES which are inappropriately used as indicators of progress, again giving the wrong signals on the best route for public policy.
  • MYTHS which need to be dispelled as they diminish the potential role of cycling and walking in public policy.
  1. They only cater for short journeys.
  2. Our inclement climate precludes their use to a significant extent.
  3. They are unrealistic ways of getting about in hilly areas.
  4. So much physical effort is entailed that a shower is needed at the end of the journey.
  5. There is a danger to health entailed in breathing polluted air.
  6. The effort entailed precludes their use by other than young fit people.
  7. They are exposed to a higher risk of injury in getting about.
  8. Pedestrians should wear light-covered clothing at night and cyclists should wear helmets at all times.
  9. Walking and cycling are not as realistic alternatives to the car as is public transport.
  10. Value for money is better achieved by investment to encourage public transport use rather than walking or cycling.

The evidence set out in this paper strongly supports the case for a wide partnership of agencies whose objectives would be furthered by significantly increasing the extent of the population’s cycling and walking, and deriving the synergistic benefits of this approach.

Three broad conclusions about the future of policy can be drawn from this paper.

  1. More regard needs to be paid to the broad implications of any policy outside its immediate boundary.
  2. The prevention of ill-health is deserving of far more attention and resources than is the curative approach.
  3. Both politicians and the general public alike need to be helped up a steep learning curve to remove ignorance of the considerable and wide-ranging benefits of putting cycling and walking much closer to the centre of policy than it is at present.

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