UCL News


New research: transport is major public health challenge

1 April 2011


Cyclist on Torrington Place transportandhealth.org.uk/?page_id=32" target="_self">Health on the Move 2

Transport is a public health challenge comparable to sewers in the 19th century and clean air in the 20th century in its difficulty, its financial implications and its consequences, according to research edited by UCL's Dr Jennifer Mindell.

Dr Mindell (UCL Research Department of Epidemiology & Public Health) is the lead editor of Health on the Move 2, a new report published by the Transport & Health Study Group (THSG) - an independent society of public health and transport practitioners and researchers committed to understanding and addressing the links between transport policies and health and promoting a healthy transport system, of which Dr Mindell is Vice-Chair.

In a thorough review of evidence on cycle safety, the report authors conclude that cycling is an inherently safe activity with major positive benefits for life expectancy, but exaggerated perceptions of its dangers lead to a poor take-up.

The researchers argue that congestion can be tackled only by a combination of road pricing, comprehensive and universal public transport systems, more home-working and more walking and cycling.

They found that traffic in streets diminishes social support and community spirit raises far-reaching spatial planning questions about how we perceive and use streets.

The report provides the evidence for and recommends making 20mph or lower speed limits the norm for residential streets, pointing to the fact that the difference between travelling two miles at 20mph and travelling it at 30mph is only two minutes.

Dr Jennifer Mindell said: "Active travel - walking or cycling for everyday journeys - is one of the most effective things people can do to keep healthy. And as more people walk or cycle, active travel becomes even safer."

The report authors, who include Professor Roger Mackett (Centre for Transport Studies at UCL), concluded that transport affects health in a range of both positive and negative ways. It provides access to many facilities beneficial to health, and in particular walking and cycling offer an excellent way to build physical activity into everyday life, but transport also causes stress, disruption of communities, injuries, noise and air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. They argue that transport's effects also exacerbate inequalities, with the benefits of motorised transport accruing particularly to the better off, while the adverse effects fall disproportionately on the already disadvantaged.

The report is a sequel to the publication Health on the Move, authored by the Transport & Health Study Group and published in 1991 by the Public Health Alliance, which was the first definitive account of the relationship between transport and health.