Encourage cycling say health experts because inactivity is as “dangerous as smoking”

National and local governments should encourage improved public health by making walking and cycling more attractive to everyone, as has been done on the Continent, according a new report by the National Institute for Health Clinical Excellence (NICE).

Read the guidance

The 126-page report warns that inactive lifestyles and obesity carry hidden dangers as damaging as those from smoking, with increased risks of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

NICE calls for town-wide programmes to promote cycling for transport and recreation, and that in street design "pedestrians and cyclists should be considered before other user groups", as is the case in countries such as the Denmark and the Netherlands.

LCC chief executive Ashok Sinha said, "The message from the health experts to Mayor Boris Johnson is don't delay in applying Go Dutch principles across Greater London's street network and town centres.

"Programmes like our NHS Greenwich project make very important contributions, but the best way to enable people to cycle more and avert a public health crisis is through better-designed streets, reduced motor traffic volumes and speeds, and coherent networks for walking and cycling."

Guidance for highway engineers and planners

The NICE guidance is aimed at schools, workplaces, local councils, highways authorities, town planners, public transport operators, private developers, and NHS managers.

Across Greater London, the Mayor has prime responsibility for transport and planning in the capital, and bears most responsibility for encouraging cycling, as called for by the report.

The report says there's an urgent need to encourage walking and cycling to levels in countries like Denmark and the Netherlands through "a commitment to invest sufficient resources" and coherent and integrated strategic routes that follow best practice, rather than the poor-quality and piecemeal provision typical in the UK.

Encouraging children is vital

The guidances says school travel plans should be developed and implemented that encourage children to walk or cycle all or part of the way to school, including children with limited mobility, according to the guidance.

In the Netherlands (see video) nearly half the primary school-age children cycle to school, compared with less than 1% in the UK, with fear of death or injury the greatest impediment to higher levels.

Mr Ralph Bagge, a community member who was involved in the guidance, said: “The answer is on your doorstep - if you have a coat and shoes, you can be active.”

Local Transport Minister Norman Baker welcomed the guidance and announced an increase of £20 million for active travel active in England but not in London:

“We want to see more people walking and cycling and this new guidance will play a valuable role in making sure that the funding we are providing translates into local measures that help more people to get more active.”