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The BMA blog



Time to get moving on healthy transport policies

What has changed since the BMA published its first report on transport and health 15 years ago, and what are we trying to achieve with today’s updated report, Healthy Transport = Healthy Lives?

Depressingly, many of our long-sighted recommendations in 1997 have had little impact in forcing politicians to take the action needed to put health at the heart of transport planning.

Communities are still fragmented by busy roads, reducing the likelihood of children walking to school, and making it difficult for more of us to use active transport — such as walking or cycling — for our short journeys. High traffic density makes active transport unappealing and, especially in the case of pedestrians, dangerous. Parents wanting the best for their children drive them to school, when walking or cycling would have positive health benefits, as well as making a tiny but cumulatively important contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Noise pollution from traffic plays an increasing role. Visitors to British cities often comment on road noise, and its impact on their ability to sleep; we tolerate it, often unaware of the health consequences.

So where does this new report take us? It has a clear focus on transport and health, looking closely at the ‘green’ issues, at sustainability and at the health advantages of active transport.

The biggest change is the good news element. We understand more about the positive health impact of walking and cycling, of engineering road conditions to make those easier and safer, and to encourage community building.

Noise and air pollution remain major health issues. A new commitment to improving access to safe walking and cycling, and to serious reductions in traffic density and speeds within housing areas will reduce both, especially in those areas where we live, and which will be the start and finish points of many trips by bike or on foot.

New hospitals and health centres are being built to replace old and outdated stock. They must have good local transport links: it will exacerbate already widening health inequalities if car owners are the only people who can access healthcare easily. Local authorities should listen to their public health directors on the role of transport planning in community building and health improvement.

We seek to make an impact in the critical area of getting policy makers at national and local government to understand the importance of active transport, and to influence transport policy to support improvements that give us all the opportunity to walk and cycle in far more safety and comfort.

The report is not anti-car; we explicitly recognise that for many journeys they remain the only feasible option. What we want, what we believe society has a right to expect, is that we will be offered more realistic options for all transport modes.

Vivienne Nathanson, BMA director of professional activities