Practitioners have a vital part to play in encouraging walking and cycling to a number of audiences, including the general public, schools and employers. Much of the information included within this section can be shared with non-transport practitioners and other audiences to help build support and awareness around promoting walking and cycling.
General information on walking and cycling
This section outlines key information around what active travel is, what national and local government is doing to support active travel, information on the different approaches used for designing active travel interventions and also a focus on behaviour change, which is an evidence-based approach for developing active travel campaigns and interventions.
What is active travel?
The term 'active travel' refers to making any journeys in a physically active manner, such as walking, wheeling (using a wheelchair or mobility aid) and cycling.
Active travel usually happens for short journeys, such as walking to the shops or school, cycling to work or to see friends and family. In addition to exercise, active travel can be convenient, accessible and is cheaper than driving the same journey.
According to the 2021 National Travel Survey, 72 per cent of journeys in England were under five miles in length. While 82 per cent of all journeys up to one mile were walked, only 23 per cent of journeys between one and five miles were walked. A five-mile journey, where there are no major barriers, could be walked in up to 90 minutes or cycled in up to 30 minutes. This indicates that there is potential to move many shorter car journeys (under five miles) to walking or cycling active travel journeys, which could in turn reduce congestion and improve the local air quality, the vibrancy of local streets and the health of the general public.
How do local and national governments support
walking and cycling?
Active Travel has become an increasingly important priority for local and national governments across the world as it brings many benefits - including improved public health, improved air quality, safer roads and more vibrant cities and towns. The Active Travel: Trends, Policy and Funding Briefing Paper sets out key benefits of active travel for the UK government, linking to these priorities:
Active travel can contribute towards the recommended 150 minutes of physical activity for adults each week, which are hugely important for maintaining health
Walking and cycling can contribute towards economic performance by reducing congestion, supporting local businesses and more. The benefit-to-cost ratio of investments in walking and cycling are estimated at 5.62:1 (or ‘very high’ value for money).
How does active travel link to national policies and strategies?
There are a number of key national policies and strategies in which active travel has an important part to play. It is worth noting that active travel responsibility in Scotland and Wales has been devolved to the Scottish Parliament and the Senedd, respectively, and the different policies and strategies are advised below.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has set out guidance around ‘how people can be encouraged to increase the amount they walk or cycle for travel or recreation purposes’, which covers policy and planning, local programmes, schools, workplaces and the NHS. This guidance, as it comes from a health perspective, is often referred to by public health and health providers as a basis for planning and work with other partners and stakeholders, including transport departments within local authorities. The guidance includes recommendations and considerations which can support active travel programmes of work.
The National Planning Policy Framework, which is the Government’s approach for planning, has several policies that link to active travel, including: an aim to achieve healthy, inclusive and safe spaces which encourage walking and cycling; identifying and considering opportunities to promote walking and cycling at the early stages of transport planning and for development proposals; and using Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans (LCWIPs) to help provide high quality active travel networks, including cycle parking provision.
The Government’s ‘Gear Change: A Bold Vision for Cycling and Walking’ sets out a goal for England to become a great walking and cycling nation, making cycling and walking the natural first choice for many journeys, with half of all urban journeys to be made by active travel means by 2030. The Vision focuses on four key areas: healthier, happier and greener communities; safer streets; convenient and accessible travel; and cycling and walking at the heart of transport decision-making and has four actions: better streets for cycling and people; putting cycling and walking at the heart of transport, place-making and health policy; empowering and encouraging local authorities; and we will enable people to cycle and protect them when they cycle. For cycling, there is a clear focus on building segregated cycle routes (where the cyclists are separated by a barrier from other road traffic) and improving the National Cycle Network, as well as setting time limits for the delivery of cycle lane schemes, which will be used as leverage against future funding. For walking, the focus is on low-traffic neighbourhoods, school streets around school premises and walking corridors. In addition, this strategy sets out a commitment to developing a “cycling and walking on prescription” programme to overcome health inequalities and increase levels of physical activity, which local authorities have been invited to bid for, as well as supporting adult access to the free Bikeability cycle training scheme across England.
Active Travel England is the new executive agency which will have responsibility for active travel including; holding the Government’s walking and cycling budget (£2bn until 2025); approving and inspecting active travel schemes; providing active travel training, design advice, good practice and knowledge-sharing; and reporting on highway authorities’ active travel performance.
The 2020 review of the Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS) examined active travel safety to deal with safety concerns. This led to changes in the Highway Code around hierarchy of road users, clarity on pedestrian priority when crossing side roads and at junctions and safer passing speeds and distances for cyclists. In addition, higher safety standards for lorries (e.g. side guards fitted to lorries) have been created due to safety concerns for cyclists around lorries on the road. We have created a ‘HGV and vulnerable road users factsheet’, which provides further information.
The CWIS also established an e-bike support programme, which supports short tryouts of e-bikes to encourage more people to purchase them. The CWIS has four key objectives:
To double the estimated total number of cycle stages made each year, from 0.8 to 1.6 billion stages in 2025, and developing the evidence base over the next year
To increase walking activity, from 300 stages per person per year in 2025, and developing the evidence base over the next year
To increase the percentage of children aged 5 to 10 that usually walk to school from 49 per cent in 2014 to 55 per cent in 2025
CWIS is supported by £1.2bn of funding, including £316m ring-fenced for walking and cycling, with the remainder to be spent on walking and cycling if required.
In 2020, the Government published statutory guidance for local authorities around reallocating road space for walking and cycling, following the increased opportunities around walking and cycling that transpired during the COVID-19 lockdowns. This included guidance on pop-up cycle lanes, closing roads, providing additional cycle storage and temporarily widening pavements at key locations, such as around shops.
The Scottish Government has published its Long-term Vision for Active Travel in Scotland 2030, which has a focus on helping citizens “to make healthy living choices” and aims to deliver “places that are happier, more inclusive and equal and more prosperous” where “people are confident to walk and cycle more often and they value and use their local transport network, which offers safe, high quality, realistic and predictable journey options for active travel.” This sits alongside Scotland’s National Walking Strategy and Cycling Action Plan for Scotland (which is due to be replaced by a new delivery-focused Cycling Framework and Delivery Plan from 2023). The Scottish Government’s Spaces for People, a temporary infrastructure programme, which was created due to opportunities around active travel during COVID-19, allowed the trial of cycling and walking infrastructure projects (including light segregation cycle lanes and pedestrianisation of roads), many of which are currently in consultation to determine if they will become permanent changes.
The Scottish Government has also published its new road safety approach: Scotland’s Road Safety Framework to 2030, which sets out a “long-term goal for road safety where no-one dies or is seriously injured by 2050” based around five strategic outcomes, two of which are related to active travel: Safe road use and Safe roads and roadsides. It has medium-term outcomes around active travel: a 40 per cent reduction in pedestrians killed or seriously injured; and a 20 per cent reduction in cyclists killed or seriously injured. Safe road use includes a focus on due regard for other road users, especially the more vulnerable (e.g. pedestrians and cyclists), inspiring the use of active travel. For Safe roads and roadsides, the focus is on investigating segregation of different modes of traffic, and where this is not possible promoting positive behaviours around shared space.
Scotland’s National Travel Strategy 2 was published in 2020, setting out “an ambitious and compelling vision for our transport system for the next 20 years” until 2040.
In Wales, the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013 sets out requirements for Welsh local authorities to “improve facilities and routes for pedestrians and cyclists”, and for new road schemes “to consider the needs of pedestrians and cyclists at design stage”. How this is delivered is part of the Active Travel Action Plan for Wales, which sets out strategic actions, including funding opportunities (e.g. grants) and other areas such as promotion through education, design guidance training. This work has been further reinforced by the 2021 Wales Transport Strategy, Llwybr Newydd, with a key ambition of an accessible, sustainable and efficient transport system. The relevant priorities for active travel are: to allow people and goods to move easily from door-to-door by accessible, sustainable transport; and to encourage people to make the change to more sustainable transport. It calls for “new developments to be walk and cycle-friendly from the outset” and for it to be made “easier to switch between different types of transport including public transport and active travel…so people can be more confident about leaving the car behind’. The strategy also sets out aims to “adapt our infrastructure to support modal shift” and to “use the Sustainable Transport Hierarchy to give priority to interventions that support walking and cycling”.
How does active travel link to local policies and strategies?
At a local level, local authorities (LAs) in England have Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans (LCWIPs) to help them decide and prioritise where funds are spent on local walking and cycling schemes, which could be funded from national or local sources. All LAs are encouraged to have an LCWIP in place. LCWIPs are important planning strategies which will align key aims for local authorities around walking and cycling, linking these with planning, public health, housing and other areas of focus. Every local authority will have an LCWIP or a version of this. To see any of these, please visit the relevant local council website for further information.
In Scotland and Wales, local authorities have their own Local Transport Plans (LTPs), which work in the same way as LCWIPs in England, and set out what Scottish and Welsh local authorities consider to be the most important transport and access issues affecting their local area, along with the their proposed approach to these issues. To see LTPs, please visit the relevant local council website for further information.
At a regional and national level, a number of Walking and Cycling Commissioners and Ambassadors have been appointed to support, advocate for, and promote walking and cycling in city regions, such as London, Scotland, West and South Yorkshire, Greater Manchester and the West Midlands.
To support safer active travel, We have created a Cost Effective Local Safety Schemes factsheet, which is targeted at practitioners and engineers and sets out ideas for lower cost engineering to provide a safer environment for safe active travel journeys.
Commissioning or developing road safety education schemes
Local authority practitioners are often commissioners and developers of road safety education programmes, with an aim to educate school pupils, especially in primary schools, about how to be safe on the roads. We have developed a number of guides, which can help practitioners decide which road safety educational programmes to support and how to develop their own. Our ‘Pedestrian Training Scheme Evaluation’ and accompanying ‘Is School pedestrian training effective?’ presentation look at the effectiveness of different methods of pedestrian training. Please visit our ‘Schools Section’ of the active travel hub for further information and to view resources we have developed to support schools in road safety education.
How can highway engineers encourage and facilitate active travel?
A number of design approaches and guidance have been developed that seek to enhance walking and cycling environments. These have been adopted as best practice approaches at local and national levels, providing a framework that has been tried and tested around place-making and ensuring that focus areas are better for walkers and cyclists. This section provides a brief outline of the different approaches and guidance available across the UK.
Healthy Streets is an approach which uses “a human-centred framework” which assesses the streetscape from a public health perspective using ten indicators as a focus for making street improvements, which will enhance the pedestrian experience:
The Healthy Streets approach has been adopted by Transport for London to help “improve air quality, reduce congestion and help make London's diverse communities greener, healthier and more attractive places”.
In 2020, the Department for Transport developed some guidance for local authorities around design guidance for cycling infrastructure. This is known as LTN 1/20 and includes guidance on planning, space requirements, junctions, crossings, signs and markings. In addition, the Government’s Cycle Infrastructure Design Guidance sets out key design principles to support the development of new cycle lanes (overseen by Active Travel England).
For trunk roads and highways across the UK, which are looked after by National Highways, Transport Scotland and Transport Wales, Design Guidance for Walking and Cycling infrastructure is provided by Standards for Highways.
In Scotland, Transport Scotland has created cycling design guidance, Cycling by Design, which has been created as a best practice approach for cycling design for roads, streets and paths across Scotland, and was developed in response to a 2018 recommendation for improvement of walking and cycling delivery by the Active Travel Taskforce. This design approach links to the National Transport Strategy 2. The guidance was created to “provide designers with the information they need to make good design decisions and to prepare solutions which are appropriate in the overall context of each specific situation”.
In addition, the Scottish Government created a Designing streets toolkit, which provides a framework to aid the design and development of a proposal or master plan that supports walking or cycling and connectivity in a local area.
In 2021, the Welsh Government created the Planning Policy Wales document, which sets out Welsh land use policies. The planning policy supports walking and cycling by providing an approach that focuses on placemaking, strategic and spatial choices, and creating active, social, productive, enterprising, natural and distinctive spaces. Easy access, the financial benefits of walking and cycling, seeking to increase walking and cycling opportunities, and prioritising walking and cycling are all parts of this approach.
Can behaviour change theory encourage more
walking and cycling?
Behaviour change theory has been used extensively to provide a tried and tested framework rooted in psychology, marketing and sociology to create campaigns and projects aiming to encourage more walking and cycling, as well as other behaviours.
The approach seeks to understand how individuals change their behaviour and how to effectively support that change. At its core, behaviour change is influenced by a combination of individual, social and environmental factors, and targeting them can lead to lasting change. Various behaviour change theories and principles (or constructs) focus on different aspects of behaviour and how that behaviour can be changed, including encouraging more people to engage in safe walking and cycling.
We have created a basic guide ‘How can behaviour change theory help more people to walk and cycle’ outlining some of the key behavioural change theories and principles or constructs linked to safe walking and cycling.
In addition, we have created a ‘Designing Evidence Based Road Safety Interventions’ guide for practitioners which utilises behaviour change theory to aid in the development of more successful interventions.
To support practitioners, we have developed an Evaluation Hub which is designed to help you to evaluate your education, training and publicity work, as well as an E-valu-it toolkit which practitioners can register for.
Making the case for active travel
Having evidence is an important part of arguing for increased support and funding for walking, wheeling and cycling projects. This section provides a list of key academic research findings to help practitioners make the economic, environmental and health case for active travel to different audiences, including colleagues and the public. These audiences may have the funds to support walking and cycling projects or may be the ones being targeted for behaviour change around walking and cycling.
What are the economic benefits of walking and cycling?
One study found that improvements in walking and cycling can boost retail spend by up to 30 per cent1, while another found that people who walk to the high street spend up to 40 per cent more than those who drive2, both showing the potential of walking and cycling to boost town centres and high streets
Businesses tend to overestimate the number of customers who drive. One study in east London showed this, with businesses predicting that 63 per cent of customers were driving to their premises, when only 20 per cent were actually doing so, and 49 per cent were estimated to be walking by businesses, whereas in fact 64 per cent of customers advised that they walked3
Increasing walking and cycling is key to attracting and retaining employees, which helps businesses and employees thrive. Walkers report feeling happier and having greater job satisfaction4. Other studies5 have also found productivity benefits for cyclists
Retail spend per square metre on cycle parking is five times that of car parking6
For every £1 spent on walking and cycling, between £5 and £13 of benefits are returned to the economy7, and the value of cycling’s health benefits are estimated to be over £1bn as of 20158
Bicycles are considerably cheaper than cars and maintenance costs are low compared with car fuel or paying for public transport. Over a year, spending £400 on a bike and cycling every day, instead of £8 each day for transport, would save you £1,6869
Improving health and wellbeing reduces healthcare costs. Danish levels of cycling in the UK would save the NHS £17 billion within 20 years10
In addition to direct growth of the cycling sector, it makes towns more desirable and accessible to visit, boosting local economies. Increasing cycling in the UK from two per cent to 10 per cent would bring annual benefits of £42bn in 205011
One car takes up the same space as five people cycling, 20 people walking or 12 cycle parking spaces12, showing that cycling and walking can help reduce congestion.
What are the environmental benefits of walking and cycling?
One trip per day switched from driving to cycling reduces CO2 emissions by about 0.5 tonnes over a year, which represents a substantial portion of average per capita CO2 emissions. If just 10 per cent of the population were to change travel behaviour, the emissions savings would be around four per cent of lifecycle CO2 emissions from all car travel13
Domestic transport emissions account for 24 per cent of UK greenhouse gas emissions in 202014, to which walking and cycling contributions are negligible
What are the health benefits of walking and cycling?
Exercise significantly improves your physical and mental health. Cycling to work is associated with a 45 per cent lower risk of developing cancer and 46 per cent lower risk of cardiovascular disease16
Cycling and being outside makes you feel better. An active lifestyle is estimated to improve wellbeing by 32 per cent17
The health benefits of cycling outweigh the negative impacts of being exposed to more air pollution18
A person who walks or cycles every day reduces their risk of diseases such as: type 2 diabetes (by 35-20 per cent), depression (by 20-30 per cent), coronary heart disease (by 20-35 per cent), Alzheimer’s disease (by 20-35 per cent), hip fracture (36-68 per cent), breast cancer (by 20 per cent), colon cancer (by 30-50 per cent) and death (by 20-35 per cent)19
People who cycle in cities have better mental health, and feel less stressed and lonely20 than those who travel by car or public transportation
Moderate pedal-pushing burns up to 500 calories per hour, which is more than walking or swimming, and a 20-minute bike ride to work could use the same amount of calories as a cappuccino or a bar of chocolate21
Walking and cycling provide more social opportunities than driving, leading to more social cohesion, a reduction in feelings of loneliness and improved mental health22.