Issue date: 13 August 2019
It is widely accepted that physical activity plays a key role in your health and wellbeing, with numerous studies in recent years showing that people who walk and cycle enjoy longer and healthier lives.
Increasingly, however, research and evidence on the long-term benefits of walking and cycling is uncovering benefits that are even greater than previously thought. Regular physical activity can help to prevent numerous serious health conditions and, as well as saving the NHS millions of pounds each year, it can help save lives.
Some of the more remarkable findings recently include:
- Regular cyclists reduce their risk of developing cardiovascular disease by 46%.
- People who are physically active reduce chances of late-onset diabetes between 33 and 50%.
- Cycling to work reduces the risk of cancer by 45%.
In recent years, the Scottish Government has committed to increased and significant investment in their active nation strategy with their vision of ‘enabling walking and cycling to be the most popular mode of travel for short, everyday journeys’ and making our ‘towns and cities friendlier, safer and more accessible’.
The National Active Travel Taskforce report, developed in partnership with stakeholders, sought ‘to improve delivery of the ambitious and inclusive walking and cycling projects in Scotland that will help to create high quality places and communities that support health and wellbeing’.
The vision of the National Walking Strategy is, “A Scotland where everyone benefits from walking as part of their everyday journeys, enjoys walking in the outdoors and where places are well designed to encourage walking”.
In 2010, the initial Cycling Action Plan for Scotland in 2010 declared that, “by 2020, 10% of all journeys taken in Scotland will be by bike.”
In 2017 this was expanded to “remain committed to the shared vision of 10% of everyday journeys by 2020, and positively promote modal shift away from vehicle journeys which will over time reduce car use for local trips”.
Closer to home both Aberdeen City Council (ACC) and Aberdeenshire Council (AC) have long-standing plans committed at ensuring walking and cycling feature prominently across our communities.
ACC’s Local Transport Strategy Refresh seeks to develop “a sustainable transport system that is fit for the 21st Century, accessible to all, supports a vibrant economy, facilitates healthy living and minimises the impact on our environment”.
The ACC LTS Refresh also contained objectives including;
Walking – to increase the number of people walking, both as a means of travel and for recreation, in recognition of the significant health and environmental benefits it can bring to our citizens.
Cycling – to foster a cycling culture in Aberdeen by improving conditions for cycling in Aberdeen so that cycling becomes an everyday, safe mode of transport for all.
The ACC Active Travel Action Plan details the policies, design principles and actions that will be pursued by the Council and partners in order to meet those objectives with the broad themes being:
- “Planning for Walking and Cycling,
- Active Travel Infrastructure and
- Awareness Raising and Promotion”.
The guiding principle of Aberdeenshire Council’s Local Transport Strategy is to “encourage individuals and businesses to consider ways to travel less, travel more actively and, where vehicular travel is necessary, how journeys could be undertaken more effectively”.
Aberdeenshire Council’s Walking and Cycling Action Plan includes objectives to;
- encourage more walking and cycling to and from school;
- improve the safety of walking and cycling in Aberdeenshire;
- promote walking and cycling as alternative transport modes, particularly for short trips; and
- encourage and facilitate walking and cycling as leisure and tourist activities to provide benefits to health and the local economy.
The North East’s Regional Transport Strategy Refresh seeks to help deliver; “A transport system for the north east of Scotland which enables a more economically competitive, sustainable and socially inclusive society”.
Nestrans’ Active Travel Action Plan, a long-term vision for the North East, aims to: “create an environment and culture in which walking and cycling are convenient, safe, comfortable, healthy and attractive choices of travel for everyday journeys”.
It is notoriously difficult to provide accurate or reliable measures of the true numbers of people walking and cycling. The 2011 National Census, while admittedly not current, is still arguably the best in existence. For example, it shows Aberdeen fares reasonably well, in terms of walking and cycling (to places of work or study), in comparison with the other large Scottish cities;
The Scottish Household Survey is often referred to for ‘evidence’ of walking and cycling rates, however given its sample size is so small, its position as a reliable and representative information source is questionable; the national poll comprises less than 0.19% of the population with the local samples similarly very limited;
In Aberdeen City, just 0.37% of population were surveyed, 3.2% of whom said they usually cycled to work and 5% of children reportedly cycling regularly to primary school.
In Aberdeenshire, just 0.31% of population were surveyed, 1.5% of whom said they usually cycled to work, with 6% of children reportedly cycling regularly to primary school.
In the North East, we have a number of long-established and extremely popular walking interest groups catering for all ages and abilities. Cycling also continues to be tremendously popular locally with numerous clubs and associations representing typically wide-ranging forms of cycling, from the more serious club athlete, to the daily commuter or the occasional mountain biker and everything in between. Indeed, individual cyclists can often assume all these ‘roles’; e.g. commuter, parent, club athlete and so on.
The upsurge in interest in active travel has seen an increasing number of events of differing sizes and appealing to more wide-ranging interests, more proactive employers who recognise the benefits that employees who are more active can bring to the workplace and the increasing number of bike-friendly businesses, including cafes, guest houses and hotels as well as the bike-related businesses, retailers and repairers.
Following the opening of the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route, there is so much untapped potential in providing for much improved active travel links into, out of and across the city and establishing much sought after safe, reliable and coherent links in and around and between Aberdeenshire towns and communities.
While focusing on the central section of Aberdeen, there is tremendous scope in the City Centre Masterplan and the Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan (SUMP) for providing, in the longer-term, a better place for residents and visitors and provide for a more welcoming environment for walking and cycling so they can become more of an option for more people. This work on improving the city centre will only be relevant if the links exist to enable people to get to and from it by active travel (and public transport) from across the rest of the city (and further afield) with similar ease.
For example, the continued and increasing use of the Deeside Way, and the many traffic-free paths across City and Shire, shows many choosing to travel on foot or by bike will do so where they can be separated entirely from vehicular traffic.
In addition to the investment by the local authorities, both in terms of people and monies, the financial gatekeepers for Government funds continue to be Sustrans Scotland, Cycling Scotland and Paths for All. Projects include those designed to improve our public spaces, such as creating segregated walking and cycling lanes and making junctions and crossings safer. In addition, support is given to training, educational and behaviour change projects, e.g. through iBike Officers in schools in both Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire and Cycle-Friendly School, Campus and Employer schemes.
Like the local authorities and other partners Nestrans is committed to putting the words of the national and local strategy documents into practice and ensuring delivery of a comprehensive, high quality travel network across the North East. In recent years around a quarter of our budget has been spent on measures, such as shared paths and traffic free routes to encourage more to consider active travel as an option.
References / Further Information
Scottish Heart Disease Statistics, NHS Scotland ; https://www.isdscotland.org/Health-Topics/Heart-Disease/Publications/2017-02-21/2017-02-21-Heart-Disease-Report.pdf
Lower your Risk: What can Physical Activity do for me?, American Diabetes Association ; http://www.diabetes.org/are-you-at-risk/lower-your-risk/activity.html
Association between active commuting and incident cardiovascular disease, cancer, and mortality: prospective cohort study, Celis-Morales, Carlos et al ; https://www.bmj.com/content/357/bmj.j1456
A long-term vision for active travel in Scotland 2030, Transport Scotland ; https://www.transport.gov.scot/media/33649/long-term-vison-for-active-travel-in-scotland-2030.pdf
Active Travel Task Force Report, Transport Scotland ; https://www.transport.gov.scot/media/42284/active-travel-task-force-june-2018.pdf
Active Travel Task Force Delivery Plan, Transport Scotland ; https://www.transport.gov.scot/media/45103/active-travel-taskforce-delivery-plan-final.pdf
Cycling Action Plan for Scotland – More People Cycling More Often, Transport Scotland ; https://www2.gov.scot/resource/doc/316212/0100657.pdf
Cycling Action Plan for Scotland 2017-2020: Cycling as a form of transport, Transport Scotland ; https://www.transport.gov.scot/media/10311/transport-scotland-policy-cycling-action-plan-for-scotland-january-2017.pdf
Local Transport Strategy 2016-2021, Aberdeen City Council ;https://www.aberdeencity.gov.uk/services/roads-transport-and-parking/local-transport-strategy
Active Travel Action Plan 2017-2021, Aberdeen City Council ; https://committees.aberdeencity.gov.uk/documents/s65438/Aberdeen%20Active%20Travel%20Action%20Plan%20Appendix%201.pdf
Local Transport Strategy, Aberdeenshire Council ; https://www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/media/2374/2012finallts.pdf
Walking and Cycling Action Plan, Aberdeenshire Council ; https://www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/media/2517/walkingcyclingactionplan.pdf
Regional Transport Strategy Refresh 2013-2035, Nestrans ; https://www.nestrans.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/RTS_Refresh_FINAL_APPROVED_BY_MINISTER.pdf
Active Travel Action Plan 2014-2035, Nestrans ;https://www.nestrans.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/AcTrAP_FINAL.pdf
Scotland’s Census 2011, National Records of Scotland ; https://www.scotlandscensus.gov.uk/variables-classification/transport-place-work-or-study
Scottish Household Survey, Scottish Government ; https://www2.gov.scot/Topics/Statistics/16002/LAtables2017