Project: Transport Physical Activity and Health - SRT 16/9/11

Reference: CSAU 09006

Last update: 13/04/2010 15:49:06


The project will bring together a group consisting of physical activity experts, behavioural and environmental experts to identify ways of tackling the issue of transport and health in the future. Four workshops will be held over a twelve month period at which presentations will be made on both the gaps in the current knowledge and possible research methods to address them. A researcher will be employed to examine the literature, particularly on possible methodologies such as the most cost-effective physical activity monitors. The outputs and programmes of the various initiatives in this area such as the outputs and programmes of the various initiatives in this area such as the UKTRC Public Health Research Centres of Excellence and the Foresight Challenge "Tackling Obesities: Future Choices" will be examined to ensure complementarity with other research and to prevent unnecessary duplication.
The output will be a report giving the research requirements in this field and one or more research proposals, based on gap analysis.


Improve the health impacts of transport. We need to identify the dey areas of concern, where further research will provide the evidence necessary to implement real improvements.
A number of workshops leading to a report making recommendations on fruitful areas for research.


University College London
Centre for Transport Studies, London, WC1E 6BT

Contract details

Cost to the Department: £90,000.00

Actual start date: 01 January 2010

Actual completion date: 31 December 2010


Transport, Physical Activity and Health - Present knowledge and the way ahead
Author: Roger L Mackett and Belinda Brown
Publication date: 01/12/2011
Source: University College London - Centre for Transport Studies
More information:

Summary of results

  1. Levels of physical activity are decreasing in Britain, as in many other countries, and this is likely to lead to serious health problems because fewer than half the population of Britain achieve the recommended levels of physical activity. In 1996 the US Surgeon General produced a report which explicitly recognised the potential contribution of everyday physical activity, including walking and cycling, to health. This has been acknowledged by both the Department of Health and the Department of Transport in Britain. Walking and cycling have decreased over the years which may have contributed to the decline in physical activity. All forms of transport influence physical activity either directly or indirectly and so offer the potential for increasing levels of physical activity.

    Much health research has been carried out into the effects of individual behaviour on physical activity. The evidence suggests that interventions need a supportive social environment to be effective. Evidence of the cost-effectiveness of interventions is limited and the is a need for on-going investment for them to be sustainable.

    Modifying the built environment has been identified as one way to influence levels of physical activity, for example by increasing the suitability of an area for walking and modifying the nature and layout of the street network. There are difficulties in this approach including issues of measurement and establishing causality. Whilst changing physical infrastructure alone may not have a direct effect on physical activity, there is evidence that good physical infrastructure may be a pre-requisite for the effectiveness of other, less tangible, measures.

    Walking and cycling offer effective routes to increasing physical activity, but reversing their long-term decline would require a shift from the car because of its dominance as a form of travel. Cars have a number of negative effects including causing fatalities in road crashes, atmospheric pollution, community severance and, in the long run, decentralisation of urban areas, all of which adversely affect walking and cycling.

    There are a number of ways that encouraging a shift from the car to walking and cycling can be approached: changing the travel behaviour of households, introducing measures to encourage more walking and cycling, charging for use of the road, land use measures, and a variety of softer measures. There have been a number of schemes which appear to have reduced car use, but there have been no systematic, robust studies that have shown unequivocally that particular measures do cause a shift from the car. Hence it not clear which are the most effective instruments for increasing walking and cycling.

    It is very important to be sensitive to the political barriers to reducing car use. Car use has become entrenched into the lifestyles of many households in Britain. Rather than start what might been seen as an attack on the lifestyles of a large proportion of the population of this country, existing initiatives could be taken forward with increased effort and funding. There is a large overlap between the health agenda to increase physical activity and the transport agenda to encourage more sustainable travel because both can be aided significantly by behaviour changes to increase walking and cycling. This would be facilitated by more explicit links between health and transport professionals, both researchers and policy makers, at national and local levels, for example by sharing knowledge of the evidence on the impact of walking and cycling schemes.

    Existing levels of accessibility could probably be maintained whilst reducing car use by moving away from the present norm of a household owning one or more cars to a more pluralistic approach with households using a wider variety of modes. This would imply changing the costing system for the car from a large initial investment with trips being relatively cheap, particularly when travelling with others, to a system comparable with that for other modes. Households can access cars in a variety of ways including car clubs and neighbourhood car rental in addition to taxis and car rental. The economics of these schemes mean that many households that do not make many car trips would probably be better off by joining such a scheme rather than owning a car. There is evidence that people who do not own cars tend to walk and cycle more than similar people who own cars. By providing alternative forms of access to cars, such schemes enable more people to manage without owning cars and therefore may have the potential, over time, to increase their levels of active travel. People often consider their car ownership requirements at significant transition points in their lives such as moving home, so it could be effective to enable agencies involved in these processes to provide information to households. This strategy of shifting from household car ownership could be supported by complementary policies of increasing the cost of fuel, reducing car parking spaces and encouraging pay-as-you-drive motor insurance, plus more congestion charging schemes with the revenue going towards making the alternatives to the car more attractive. If there were a consequent reduction in car use it would be important to transfer road space from cars to walking and cycling to prevent the car trips being induced by the lower journey times caused by the reduction in traffic.

    This shift from the car towards walking and cycling should make urban areas more attractive which should help to slow down the outward movement of households seeking more pleasant environments in which to bring up children, which leads to more car use. This would need to be complemented by providing suitable housing within urban areas.

    Some of the transport models that have been used have not been very accurate at forecasting nor are they sensitive enough to forecast many of the relevant aspects of travel behaviour. One approach to doing so would be to use microsimulation modelling which represents the travel and related decisions of a set of households over time. The modelling approach currently used ignores the effects of changes to the transport network on locational decisions by both households and developers. It would be useful to have a debate about the models used for forecasting and to set up a programme like the Travel Model Improvement Program in the United States. It would be useful if the financial benefits of health resulting from more physical activity were incorporated into the appraisal process for new transport schemes. It may be appropriate to change the decision-making procedures used for schemes such as retail developments, hospitals and schools so that the travel demands of the users (customers, patients and their visitors, and pupils) and are taken into account explicitly in decisions about new locations.

    This report shows that there is a large body of evidence about ways of increasing walking and cycling through a variety of measures. There is sufficient evidence available to pursue some of the initiatives now. However, it would be useful to carry out further research into a number of areas, particularly into ways of meeting the perceived accessibility needs of car users and their households, how to make alternatives methods of car access besides owning one or more cars more attractive and effective, understanding of the analytical relationships between the various modes, and significant improvements to the modelling and appraisal framework including more explicit representation of walking and cycling and their benefits.