Pedestrians, cyclists and those who use public transport should be given priority when new roads are built or upgraded, a U.K. government agency recommended in January this year, as it sought consultation for a draft quality standard, “Physical activity: encouraging activity in the general population”.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)’s final guidelines, which are due for release in June 2019, outlines several recommendations focused on shaping urban design to encourage active mobility, such as widening footpaths and introducing cycle lanes, ensuring footpaths and cycle routes are connected to existing routes, and introducing traffic-calming techniques to restrict vehicle speeds.
NICE is urging planners to develop policies and initiatives that “ensure that safe, convenient, inclusive access for pedestrians, cyclists, and people who use public transport is maximised and is prioritised over motorised transports (cars, motorbikes and mopeds, for example)”.
The guidelines delved into the details, recommending that these amenities are made of “tactile paving, even surfaces for those with limited mobility, and non-reflective and anti-glare paving surfaces for people with visual impairments”.
Its main rationale for making non-motorized transport a priority: to coax people into get moving, by encouraging safe, convenient, active travel that is accessible for everyone.
“Physical inactivity is responsible for one in six deaths and is believed to cost the UK £7.4 billion each year, including £900 million to the NHS,” its press release reads.
“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 deputy chief executive and director of health and social care at NICE, Professor Gillian Leng.
“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,” she said.
While air pollution is not mentioned in the draft guidelines, NICE points policymakers to its upcoming quality standard, Air pollution: outdoor air quality and health, expected at the end of February, encouraging them to consider the latter “when commissioning or providing physical activity within the general population”– an illustration of the many potential health co-benefits of policies in different sectors, and, inversely, the hidden costs of not considering health in all policies.
“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,” said CEO of Living Streets, the UK charity for everyday walking, Joe Irvin.
“The better planning that NICE is suggesting is absolutely necessary. Those who are the most vulnerable – children and older people – are currently suffering the most from bad air, unhealthy lifestyles and social isolation.
“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,” he said.
According to Forbes, NICE has issued this advice annually, in different forms, since 2015, but the organization might have started to find itself surrounded by a growing number of voices from the healthcare sector calling for more attention to environmental determinants of health and for policy in all sectors to reflect health costs and benefits.
Late last year, after the first World Health Organization Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health saw medical and health professionals and organizations raise and discuss the evidence, gaps and solutions around the topic and make a broad range of commitments to fighting air polluting, three major reports were released by the Lancet, WHO and the United States on the interlinkages among air pollution, climate change and various facets of health.
Read the current draft quality standard here.