Cycling progress could prevent life-threatening illnesses

An estimated 34,000 incidences of eight life-threatening conditions could be prevented in seven major cities by 2040 if cycling increased at rates like those seen since the millennium in London.

Walking and cycling charity Sustrans has published a new report looking at what the health, economic and environmental benefits of cycling could look like by 2040 in seven UK cities: Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Greater Manchester and Newcastle.

The report, Transforming Cities: The potential of everyday cycling, has estimated that more than one billion cycling trips would take place in 2040 in those major cities, which is an eight-fold increase from 123 million trips, if cycling in England is doubled by 2025 as set out in the UK Government’s Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy.

Such an increase would equate to over 242.4 million hours of additional physical activity, prevent 628 early deaths and generate £21 billion of savings to the economy, including 319 million of savings to the NHS over the 23-year period. Type 2 diabetes, stroke, breast cancer and depression are cited in the report as being among the life-threatening conditions that cycling would help tackle.

Sustrans warns that the government’s ring-fenced cycling and walking investment in England, outside of London, is on a steep downward trajectory, dropping from £2.16 per person in 2016/7 to just 37p in 2020/1. Therefore the charity wants the government to commit five per cent of the transport budget on active travel, rising to 10 per cent by 2025 in the next Comprehensive Spending Review. This would amount to £17 per person annually in 2020/21, rising to £34 per person in 2024/5 in England.

Xavier Brice, chief executive at Sustrans said: “Our report provides 34,000 reasons why governments across the UK should prioritise investment in cycling. Every part of the country is facing a physical inactivity and obesity crisis, which is why decision-makers need to get on the front foot and tackle these problems head-on.

“Prevention is better than cure is an often repeated mantra of health ministers across the UK, but tackling the deepening health crisis shouldn’t be left to the NHS alone. That’s why the forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review should prioritise prevention and provide greater public funding for cycling to deliver our five ‘must haves’.”

Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, said: “Cycling in Greater Manchester, like in many UK cities and regions is increasing, although not at a pace we’d like to see. We have a long way to go before we can call cycling a ‘normal’ way to travel, which is accessible to all our residents.

“This is why we are investing £160m in walking and cycling. We cannot think of a better way to spend £160m on transport that brings such widespread benefits to residents across our region. This investment however is just the start. We want to double cycling and then double it again. We were made to move and now is the time to act on this and transform our great city region.”