Thousands of life-threatening illnesses could be prevented if major cities increased cycling rates to those seen in London since the turn of the millennium.
A new report into the benefits of cycling found that if Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Greater Manchester and Newcastle increased cycling rates to the same level as is found in the capital, an estimated 34,000 incidences of eight life-threatening conditions would be prevented.
Published by the walking and cycling charity Sustrans, the report found that cycling levels in London have more than doubled since 2000, but have remained static across the rest of the UK.
Transforming Cities: The potential of everyday cycling highlights the impact of doubling cycling trips every eight years between 2017 and 2040. This follows the Government’s Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy which seeks to double cycling in England over eight years by 2025.
The report estimated that more than one billion cycling trips would take place in 2040 in those seven major cities, which is an eight-fold increase from 123 million trips.
This would help prevent incidences of eight life-threatening conditions, including Type 2 diabetes, stroke, breast cancer and depression and 628 early deaths. It would also generate £21bn of savings to the economy over the 23-year period.
Sustrans warns, however, that the substantial health benefits from increased cycling are only possible if long term political commitment and investment exist.
The Government’s ring-fenced cycling and walking investment in England, outside of London, is on a downward trajectory from £2.16 per person in 2016/17 to 37p in 2020/21, the charity says.
Sustrans wants the UK Government to commit 5% of the transport budget on active travel, raising to 10% 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.
‘Our report provides 34,000 reasons why governments across the UK should prioritise investment in cycling,’ said Xavier Brice, chief executive at Sustrans.
‘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, commented: ‘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.’