House of Commons Library

Active travel: Trends, policy and funding

Published Friday, July 5, 2019

Active travel means making journeys by physically active means, like walking or cycling. Given active travel is a devolved policy area, this briefing relates primarily to active travel policies in England.

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Active travel means making journeys by physically active means, like walking or cycling. The Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy, published in 2017, is the Government’s strategy to promote walking and cycling in England. Given active travel is a devolved policy area, this briefing relates primarily to active travel policies in England.

Benefits of Active travel

Investing in active travel can bring environmental, health and economic benefits:

  • Promoting active travel can result in reduced emissions of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), Particulate matter (PM) and CO2 helping to tackle climate change and improve air quality.
  • 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).

Facilitating active travel

Not all towns and cities are designed to be conducive to active travel. Some 62% of adults aged 18+ in England agreed that “it is too dangerous for me to cycle on the roads” while busy roads may deter parents from letting their children walk to school. Thoughtful urban design, and creating integrated transport systems that promote walking and cycling, could encourage people to choose active means of travel.

Government policy: Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy, England

The Government published its Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy in April 2017. This Strategy sets out the Government’s “ambition that cycling and walking are the natural choices for shorter journeys, or as part of a longer journey.” The Strategy:

  • sets objectives for both 2020 and 2025. By 2025, the Government wants to double cycling rates and increase the number of children aged 5 to 10 that usually walk to school from 49% to 55%.
  • commits £1.2bn that “may” be spent on cycling and walking between 2016-17 and 2020-21. £316m of this is ringfenced for cycling and walking. The remaining funding is allocated to local authorities to spend on its own transport priorities.
  • introduced Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans (LCWIPs) which Local Authorities have been encouraged to develop to identify and prioritise investment for cycling and walking schemes (using the financial resources set out in the Strategy).

The ambitions in the Strategy were broadly welcomed by walking and cycling charities, but many felt that there were insufficient financial resources available. In particular, many groups felt more funding was needed to support Local Authorities implement their LCWIPs.

Devolved active travel policies

The Scottish Assembly and Welsh Assembly have legislative competence for active travel. The Scottish Government has published its Long-Term Vision for Active Travel in Scotland 2030 and is investing £80m on active travel in 2019-20. The Welsh Government passed the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013 published its Active Travel Action Plan for Wales in 2016.

Commons Briefing papers CBP-8615

Authors: David Hirst; Noel Dempsey

Topic: Cycling

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