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UK health body calls for Copenhagen-style bike-friendly streets

UK health body calls for Copenhagen-style bike-friendly streets

The streets of Britain could start to look like those of Copenhagen, where cycling is prioritised over cars, if local authorities act on new official health guidance. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) is recommending that cars come last when new roads are built or old ones upgraded. Not just cyclists but…

The streets of Britain could start to look like those of Copenhagen, where cycling is prioritised over cars, if local authorities act on new official health guidance.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) is recommending that cars come last when new roads are built or old ones upgraded. Not just cyclists but also pedestrians and those who use public transport should be prioritised, it says.

Nice’s remit is health. The proposal is part of a draft quality standard for encouraging physical activity for everybody. Lack of exercise, sitting at home and travelling everywhere by car is contributing to the nation’s obesity epidemic. In 2016, more than a quarter – 26% – of the adult population were deemed to be obese, which carries risks for heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes.

Physical inactivity is responsible for one in six UK deaths, which is as many as caused by smoking. It is estimated to cost the UK £7.4bn annually, which includes £0.9bn in NHS costs.

“Getting people to be more physically active by increasing the amount they walk or cycle has the potential to benefit both the individual and the health system,” said Prof Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive and director of health and social care at Nice.

“As a society we are facing a looming type 2 diabetes crisis, which is in part caused by people not exercising enough. We need more people to change their lifestyle and to take more exercise.

“People can feel less safe when they walk or cycle compared with when they drive. We’ve got to change this. So asking planners to prioritise pedestrians, cyclists and those who use public transport when roads are built or upgraded can ensure they are safe, attractive and designed to encourage people to get out from behind their wheel.”

Nice wants planners to think how to design roads to encourage cycling and walking. In Copenhagen, where bikes are prioritised, there are separate raised lanes for them and a physical barrier between the car and cyclists. Bikes have separate traffic lights, which turn green ahead of those for cars, allowing them to move off first.

Waltham Forest in London is already ahead of the pack. It has obtained a £30m grant from government to turn its streets into what it terms a “mini Holland”. “We want to make cycling and walking an enjoyable, safe and easy way of getting around, not just for people who already cycle and walk but for people who might currently be put off because of safety concerns,” it says on its website.

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Nice wants traffic planners to ensure that walkers, cyclists and people with limited mobility can get around more easily, which can include restrictions on cars.

“This may include reallocating road space to support walking and cycling, restricting motor vehicle access, introducing road-user charging and traffic-calming schemes and making it as easy as possible for people with limited mobility to move around their local area,” says the guidance. “Foot and cycle networks should pay particular attention to integrating with public transport networks.”

It also says that the needs and wishes of all the different travellers must be taken into account. “This is because there may be conflict when space is shared by people using different types of travel,” it says.

They should also aim to provide tactile paving and smooth surfaces for those with limited mobility, and non-reflective, anti-glare paving surfaces for people with visual impairments.

Joe Irvin, CEO of Living Streets, the UK charity for everyday walking, said: “For decades our towns and cities have been built to prioritise motor vehicles; resulting in unhealthy air, congested roads and a decline in people walking everyday journeys.

“It’s time that towns and cities were built for everyone – first and foremost for those on foot. Placing key services like schools, GP surgeries and bus stops within walking distance is vital. More people getting out and walking everyday journeys, such as to work or school, will make us a healthier country.”

“We welcome initiatives that make our daily environments more conducive to physical activity, enabling people to make healthy choices,” said Louise Meincke, head of policy and public affairs at the World Cancer Research Fund, who is herself from Copenhagen. “Being physically active is a vital part of lowering your risk of cancer. Furthermore, it is a way of maintaining a healthy weight, as being overweight or obese is a cause of 12 different types of cancer.”

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