Chronic underfunding of active travel across England is undermining efforts to get people walking, wheeling and cycling, instead of driving, according to a new report.
The report, published by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), says the UK lags behind its European counterparts, with fewer than one in five people walking, wheeling or cycling on an average day compared to more than one in four across Europe.
It highlights that spending on active travel in England ‘pales in comparison’ to the amounts spent on roads. In the 2016 to 2021 period, an average of £148 per person per year was spent on roads, over 10 times the amount spent on facilitating active travel across the country.
The report also reveals disparities in active travel spending across the country. For example, London spent the equivalent of £24 per head per year between 2016 and 2021, while the rest of the country spent the equivalent of only £10 per head.
However, even London’s spend on active travel is far below what is needed, IPPR says.
The report fears that funding for active travel schemes faces an uncertain future. It points out that dedicated funding was recently cut by £233 million – while noting that the rhetoric surrounding the Government’s new plan for drivers ‘has clearly signalled that promoting active travel is no longer considered the priority it once was’.
Maya Singer Hobbs, senior research fellow at IPPR, said: “Cycling in the UK peaked 75 years ago. Since then, UK government policy has locked in car dependency, making people walk wary and cycle cautious, at the expense of our health, our environment and our economy.
“Investment in active travel infrastructure to get more people walking and wheeling is crucial to cutting emissions and improving growth.”
The report makes the case that investing in active travel will increase journeys made by walking, wheeling and cycling has health, climate and wellbeing benefits and also offers a way to create green jobs, boost the economy and deliver safer streets.
- Shifting short journeys from cars to active travel would save the NHS £17 billion over 20 years through improved health and wellbeing
- For every £1 spent on active travel infrastructure, there is an average return on investment of £5.62, compared to just £2.50 for roads
- Doubling cycling and increasing walking as alternatives to car transport would prevent 8,300 premature deaths and save £567 million per year though improved air quality
- Reducing car miles by 25%, a requirement for meeting the UK’s 2030 climate commitments, relies on cycling levels increasing by at least 20 per cent within the decade.
In order to gain the economic, health and environmental benefits of active travel, the IPPR report is proposing a new funding settlement:
- Investing £35 per person per year for a decade on active travel infrastructure, including delivering at least 25,000 miles of protected cycle paths
- Investing a further £15 per person per year for a decade on interventions to change behaviour, such as training for cyclists, incentives to increase access to bicycles, and loans of e-bikes
- Active travel funds should be allocated as part of single-pot, long-term funding settlements to local and regional authorities.
Stephen Frost, principal research fellow at IPPR, said: “This research reveals what could be achieved if all the warm words from government about the value of walking, wheeling and cycling were matched with investment. Diverting just a small percentage of the billions invested by the government in car travel could make our streets safer for everyone travelling under their own steam.
“Children could move around more freely, we’d all have better access to green space and nature, people would be healthier and less isolated and local high streets could be thriving. All this while also moving us closer to achieving the UK’s legally-binding climate commitments. Active travel is among the safest investments in transport – a future UK government must put its money in the right place.”