New video commentaries covering four decades of research

The Policy Studies Institute has filmed a series of 8 short video commentaries by Mayer Hillman. They will cover the main themes of Mayer’s research since 1970, including:

  • Making the most of daylight hours
  • Cycling – one of the greatest inventions of all time
  • Climate change
  • Children’s independent mobility
  • The efficacy of cycle helmet wearing

Carbon rationing to limit climate change: the most effective way of promoting cycling

Theme 01 – Cycling in the Wider Context

We are at a defining moment in history. Climate change is now becoming widely recognised as the most awesome threat ever faced by mankind. Accumulating evidence indicates that the choices and quality of life of future generations will be gravely affected as a direct outcome of our excessive use of fossil fuels. This is deeply embedded in all aspects of our lives. It is imperative that we face up to our responsibilities as current stewards of a planet with only a finite capacity to safely absorb the consequent greenhouse gas emissions. We must drastically and urgently curtail our energy-based activities in order to limit the damage that is already underway. Continue reading

The relevance of climate change to the future of cycling

Urgent action needed to combat climate change
Alarming evidence from around the world of increasingly frequent and severe weather events cannot continue to be treated as if there were no link between the events and the wider and more intensive adoption of lifestyles heavily dependent upon burning fossil fuels. There can be little doubt now that every affluent country must deliver dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from this source in order to minimise climate change. Continue reading

Debate: the relevance of risk compensation to cycle helmet wearing

Published in Injury Prevention, June 2001.

Risk compensation theory should be subject to systematic reviews of the scientific evidence
D C Thompson, R S Thompson and F P Rivara

Many readers of Injury Prevention are quite familiar with the debate over bicycle helmet use. The core of this debate is the opinion on one side that helmets are effective and thus should be worn, countered on the other side by the belief that risk compensation negates this protective effect of helmets. A systematic review on helmet effectiveness has been published in the Cochrane Library.[1] The objective of the Cochrane review was to determine whether bicycle helmets reduce head, brain, and facial injury for bicyclists of all ages involved in a crash. The principles required of high quality evidence based reviews were followed: a comprehensive literature search, pre-established study selection criteria, and most importantly a critical review of study methods. A well conducted systematic review identifies and considers all the literature (peer reviewed, government reports, and unpublished papers), and rates the study quality. Appropriately, such reviews only include better designed and conducted studies. The evidence is then summarized across all the studies. Continue reading

13: Ten myths about cycling

  1. Cycling, like walking, only caters for short journeys
    In any equivalent time spent walking, cycling gives access to over 15 times the area, that is the number of potential destinations that can be reached. Currently, 40% of all journeys are less than 2 miles long and two thirds less than 5 miles (a distance within which about three-quarters of cyclists’ journeys are made— that is about half an hour’s cycle ride and taking the bike on the train can often be a convenient option for some of the longer journeys.
  2. Cycling can mainly only meet fit young people’s travel needs.
    Most people can cycle but are discouraged from doing so by the perceived danger: in the Netherlands, 1 in 4 of the journeys of women pensioners is made by cycle! In any case, no one is arguing that everyone should make all their journeys by cycle.
  3. Cycling is often unsuitable because of rain or cold.
    The risk of rain on a typical journey of 10 minutes is only about 1 in 100. And the exercise entailed in cycling raises body and skin temperature so that cyclists feel cold only on those very rare occasions when the temperature is very low.
  4. Cycling is not a realistic means of travel because of the effort involved in riding up hills.
    Most of Cambridge is flat, nearly all bikes have gears, and hills don’t only go up! In any case, cyclists are not glued to their saddle — they can dismount and push their bikes on those rare occasions when it is too tiring. In practice, this rarely happens.
  5. Cycling entails so much physical effort that a shower is needed at the end of the journey.
    This is a common view of those who don’t cycle. It is not the experience of those who do cycle. Even where showers are available, few feel the need to have one.
  6. Cycling damages health owing to having to breathe polluted air from vehicle exhausts.
    This is a ‘chicken and egg’ situation: doctors strongly recommend regular exercise, and cycling is one of the best ways as it can be tied into the daily routine. Studies have shown that adults who do so are as fit as those ten years younger. It has been shown too that, as far as pollution is concerned, vehicle occupants are at significantly greater risk: in contrast to cyclists, they have to inhale fumes from the vehicle exhausts just in front of them at traffic lights.
  7. Cycling is slower than public transport.
    The National Travel Survey shows that, on a door-to-door comparison over the same route, most journeys in urban areas can be made more quickly by cycle than public transport. In fact, cycling has generally proved faster than the car on timed journeys in urban areas.
  8. Cycling is not as cost-effective an investment of public as public transport.
    Nonsense! In fact, 10,000 metres (10 kilometres) of safe cycle routes can be built at the same cost as that required for just 1 metre of London’s Jubilee Line extension!
  9. Cycling is dangerous.
    It is drivers who are ‘dangerous’: over 80% of cyclists are killed as a result of being hit by a car or lorry. In any case, when cycling, only one fatality occurs on average every 30 million kms, and one serious injury every 1.7 million kms. With the creation of more cycle networks, that low risk will be reduced. On the other hand, my BMA study showed the risk of not cycling to be far higher owing to lack of regular exercise leading to death from heart disease (annual deaths from heart disease 130 thousand, that is about 1000 times the number of cycle fatalities).
  10. Cycling entails wearing a safety helmet to avoid risk of head injury.
    Of cyclists’ serious head injuries, 85% result from collision with a vehicle: cycle helmets cannot be designed to afford sufficient protection in these circumstances. Few Dutch or Danish cyclists wear one, but their injury rate is far lower than in the UK because far more cycle routes are provided and drivers there are more careful as there are more cyclists on the streets.

This Musing was drawn from the keynote paper Cycling at the top of the policy agenda given at the ‘Making Cycling Viable’ Symposium, Wellington, New Zealand, 14-15 July 2000.

Cycling at the top of the policy agenda

Making Cycling Viable, New Zealand Cycling Symposium 2000, 14-15 July 2000.

You may have noticed that the title of this paper is more ambitious than simply suggesting that cycling needs to be placed at the top of the transport policy agenda. That is deliberate. Uniquely, the successful promotion of cycling as a means of transport – not just a leisure activity – delivers practical solutions to a broad range of personal, community and global problems that go well beyond those in the transport sphere[1]. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Cycling as the realistic substitute for the car

Burying the conventional urban myth about public transport VeloCity, Milano, 1995.

The role of public transport is much exaggerated. This has led to a serious distortion and under-estimation of the potential role of the bicycle (and, to a lesser extent, walking) as a more realistic substitute for car travel on urban journeys. The essential transfer away from the car to achieve more of the current objectives of public policy on environmental protection, energy saving, health promotion, car use reduction, and getting best value for money, would be furthered by giving pride of place in towns and cities to cycling (and walking) before public transport. Continue reading

The cycle helmet: friend or foe?

Many bodies, including elected authorities, the medical profession and road safety organisations all over the world seek to persuade cyclists to wear helmets as a means of reducing the incidence and severity of head injury among them. Some cyclists question this course of action, whilst others are opposed. At the end of the day, many people are confused. Without research aimed at reviewing and marshalling all the evidence, no clear way forward can be determined. This paper, drawn from a major report by the author, which has just been published by the independent Policy Studies Institute (Hillman, 1993), is aimed at doing just that. Continue reading

Educating decision makers about the health benefits and safety aspects of cycling

VeloCity Milano, 1991

This paper will be focused on the need to educate transport and health practitioners and politicians about the relationship between the risk to health of not cycling and the risk of death or serious injury in a road accident when cycling. Continue reading