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Sara Ladkani-Knowle on the Bristol and Bath Railway Path with her 13-month old daughter

Our recent YouGov poll  revealed that 84% of parents say their awareness of environmental problems had increased in the last year, yet almost a third (27%) cited the inconvenience of planning a sustainable journey as a key barrier. We know there is public appetite to lead a more sustainable lifestyle, and our survey shows that people want to travel in a more environmentally friendly way, but now they need the right infrastructure to act.

Sara Ladkani-Knowles, 36, moved house two year’s ago because of its proximity to the Bristol to Bath railway path – a cycling and walking route which enables her to cycle around the city. After having her first child, Sara still uses the path to travel to the shops, park and meet friends locally. We caught up with Sara to find out why she decided to take the plunge and move location.

Reducing our impact on the environment 

Sara said: “At school I learnt about climate change and the damaging effect humans are having on the planet and this really stayed with me. We’re starting to notice the rate of global warming, with regular new stories highlighting the speed at which the ice caps are melting and the increasing number of natural disasters. It worries me and this is only the tip of the iceberg.

“As a family we’ve made a number of changes to our lifestyle to reduce our impact on the environment. This includes buying veg boxes to reduce plastic waste, bringing our own re-usable bags to shops and also limiting the amount of water we use by having shorter showers.

The benefits of living near a cycling and walking path

“My husband and I bought a house on the Bristol to Bath railway path so that we could rely less on our car and we use it all the time. Before I became pregnant we used to cycle to Bath regularly as it only takes an hour. It’s such an enjoyable experience because there are no cars to navigate so it really takes the street out of cycling.  

“It’s an amazing place to bring my 13-month-old daughter because it’s away from congested, busy roads and means she’s not breathing in polluted air. I take her to the shops in Fishpond and Warmley on the path. She’s not quite up to the ride to Bath yet but we are slowly building up to a trip there.   

“ If the UK had more cycle paths like the one I travel on, I think more people would consider riding a bike or walking for shorter journeys. ”

- Sara Ladkani-Knowles

“I’m really looking forward to teaching her how to cycle independently on the path when she is older. It’s such a great place to venture to on a day out as there are lots of places you can stop off and it’s great for spotting wildlife. Right near us there's a damp spot where dragonflies roam and frogs breed. I can't wait to take her plant spotting, such a huge variety down there.

Removing the barriers to sustainable travel

“I’d say one of the biggest barriers to more families travelling sustainably is how infrequent and unpleasant public transport can be. As a mother, I find it hard to find space for a buggy on the bus. This means I have to carry my daughter in a sling but she’s getting too heavy for that now.

“Travelling by bus can also be expensive. It’s £4 where I live which builds up quickly if you’re travelling every day. Combine this with how unreliable public transport can be and it’s no wonder that cars are perceived as more convenient and comfortable.

“If the UK had more cycle paths like the one I travel on, I think more people would consider riding a bike or walking for shorter journeys. Bristol is a great place to travel actively but there are gaps in some of the routes which force you out onto busy main roads. If it’s like this in a very cycle friendly city, I dread to think what it’s like across the rest of the country.”   

Find out how to start cycling for more journeys
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Gaia, 11, cycles the new traffic-free link at Ledaig on the Caledonia Way

Gaia celebrating the end of her Caledonia Way adventure at Inverness Castle

Anyway, I should probably explain myself, I’m Gaia, I’m 11, I love cycling and raising money for charities that have helped my friends and family. I have now done two charity cycle rides and I’m always looking for a new challenge. I decided on the Caledonia Way as it certainly would be a challenge, I mean, from 182 miles (when I did the Hebridean Way in 2018) to 237 miles, that certainly is a challenge.

I wanted to raise money for Alzheimer Scotland. My grandad died with Alzheimer’s so I wanted to support the charity that helped him. I set up a page on Just Giving and people would leave messages with their sponsorship. Thinking about those messages kept me going and really helped motivate me when I was finding it hard.

Seeing Scotland differently

It was a different way of seeing Scotland, from a different angle. Because we didn’t scare animals away and you take a longer route, as you’re not always on the road, you see things you wouldn’t see in a car. We rode through lots of different types of scenery along the coast, lakes and forests, it was all really beautiful. My highs consisted of sweeping into Caradale, 1¾ miles to Lochgilphead, woohoo, and the seals sitting on the rocks at Loch Caolisport.

I really enjoyed it but it was hard work. Riding in the rain was absolutely horrible. Getting up was sometimes a struggle, there were a few times when dad had to literally take the tent down around me, because I was so tired. Also the hills were tough, because my bike is a road bike it doesn’t really have the low gears so sometimes I had to get off and walk when it was too steep, but I don’t mind that.

Being on my bike exhilarates me

Being outdoors and on my bike exhilarates me and I always get a good night’s sleep. I don’t think it matters whether you are a child or an adult, sometimes I think I was the one encouraging dad that he could do it. When I ride my bike I may not have as much experience as my parents but I’m learning to be safe on road.

I felt very proud when we finished, and it was really exciting to think I had travelled all that way. Though I had to take a break from my bike for a wee while afterwards because it takes a lot out of you doing a ride of that length.

I definitely want to do another big cycle ride, I’ve done it before and I want to do it again, we just need to find another route for next year.

Take a look at Gaia's Just Giving page
 
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“I think more people with disabilities would start cycling if they had more faith in their abilities and if they saw people like myself out on my handcycle."

“I’ve never let my disability hold me back and riding a bike is just one of the many outdoor activities and sports I take part in. There’s so much out there."

A new report published by Sustrans and Arup reveals that one third (33%) of disabled people in UK cities and towns would like to start cycling but 84% never do due to a number barriers preventing them. These include heightened safety concerns, lack of dedicated cycle infrastructure and the high cost of adapted cycles.

Tina Evans was first diagnosed with Friedreich’s Ataxia at 16 year’s old, a recessive genetic condition that effects balance and co-ordination and gradually deteriorates the body. Having always had a passion for the outdoors, Tina hasn’t allowed her condition to get the best of her and has continued to take part in activities such as skiing, surfing and cycling to help retain muscle strength and keep fit.

Living with Friedreich’s Ataxia

Tina said: "At the age of 16 I noticed something wasn’t quite right with my balance. Sometimes I would walk into my friends and I found it difficult to keep my balance while my eyes were closed. After a few doctor’s appointments and medical tests, I was diagnosed with a rare condition called Friedreich’s Ataxia.

“By the age of 21 I had to battle with my pride and give into the wheelchair. But I quickly came to realise that it was the best decision I had ever made. Doing small things like going to town or walking with friends became hard work due to tiredness and my confidence slowly dropped. The wheelchair gave me back the freedom to move around freely and actually made me feel more able."

Taking on a challenge

“I’m the type of person who always looks for the solution in life and my diagnosis hasn’t stopped me from doing the things I love. I’m an adrenaline junkie at heart and still go on skiing holidays, surf and cycle. I purchased a recumbent handcycle a few years ago and since then have taken part in the Swansea 10k and cycled the length of a half marathon. I like having a challenge to keep my motivation up. It  is a huge sense of achievement when I finish a race or travel a long distance and makes me feel like I’m beating my condition.

“A friend and I are taking on another challenge later this year and are planning to cycle from Bangor to Cardiff over seven days. We hope to complete the 250 mile journey on an adapted tandem, which has a handcycle at the front. I feel such an awesome sense of freedom when I am out on my bike and love testing my limits. This is why we are thinking of going even bigger for our next challenge ride.

“ As a disabled person it’s easy to fall into the belief that I am different which can make me feel isolated, but when you cycle you’re automatically a part of the 'family' and it’s a wonderful feeling. ”

- Tina Evans

“In the lead up to the event, I’ve been training on a mixture of cycle paths and roads. People tend to speed on rural roads in the Gwendraeth Valley, so I stick to main roads and a quiet cycle path near my house when training. I think it’s great to have cycling paths so near, as when I train in the evening after work, I feel safer and much more confident. During our ride down the country, we will be using paths as often as possible in respect for traffic that we would be holding up on roads."

Making cycling more accessible 

“I think that it’s so important to have cycling infrastructure in place, and as the popularity of cycling continues to escalate, it will lead to a greater need to ensure everyone can enjoy riding a bike safely.

“I think more people with disabilities would start cycling if they had more faith in their abilities and if they saw people like myself out on my handcycle. There needs to be more information available to demonstrate the options there are for people with neurological conditions. I had no idea a recumbent handcycle even existed until I looked into it more.

“I’ve never let my disability hold me back and riding a bike is just one of the many outdoor activities and sports I take part in. There’s so much out there. It’s just a case of finding it.

“I look forward to future developments, which will see more paths running through rural areas, encouraging people from all abilities to ride together. I get a real sense of belonging, when other cyclists pass me on the path and say hello.

“As a disabled person it’s easy to fall into the belief that I am different which can make me feel isolated, but when you cycle you’re automatically a part of the 'family' and it’s a wonderful feeling.”

Find out more about our "Inclusive cycling in towns and cities" report with Arup here.
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©2017, Colin Hattersley all rights reserved

On 13 June, the Scottish Parliament votes on a Bill that could save lives, make walking and cycling easier, make our towns and cities better for people. 

We urge Members of the Scottish Parliament to take leadership.  To follow the example set recently in Wales and legislate to set the restricted roads default speed limit at 20mph in Scotland. 

To reiterate:

Road safety - 20 mph will reduce the number and severity of road casualties

Public health – 20mph makes streets feel safer for people to walk about and cycle, encouraging more people to do so

Social justiceour research shows that children in Scotland’s poorest areas are 3 times as likely to be killed, seriously injured or injured by motor traffic as children in the wealthiest areas, despite lower car ownership in these areas.  Making 20mph the default speed limit on restricted roads will have a particularly positive impact in these areas. 

Sustrans were one of 25 organisations in public health, child advocacy, active travel, and poverty campaigning to call on the First Minister to support the Bill.  

The arguments have been made, the evidence has been heard.  Now it’s time to show leadership. 

Sustrans remains committed to 20mph as one of the best measures to make walking and cycling easier and safer in our towns and cities. 

Find out more about why Sustrans Scotland supports 20mph
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©2017, Sustrans, all rights reserved

Active travel can play a critical role in increasing levels of physical activity. Two recent reports set out why it must be a priority area for improvement in health and social care.

Firstly, new guidance from NICE, the National Institute For Health And Care Excellence, highlights five ways in which active travel can encourage and support people of all ages and all abilities to be physically active and to move more. This guidance sets out how local strategy, policy and planning, and improvements to the built or natural physical environment such as public open spaces, workplaces and schools support better health through more physical activity. These are:

  • Local authorities and healthcare commissioning groups have senior level physical activity champions who are responsible for developing and implementing local strategies, policies and plans. Champions will raise the profile of physical activity to address local need, including through active travel
  • Local authorities prioritise pedestrians, cyclists and people who use public transport when developing and maintaining connected travel routes. Prioritising people who walk and cycle, as well as those who use public transport, empowers people to make travel choices that help to create healthier places and happier lives for everyone
  • Local authorities involve community members in designing and managing public open spaces. This can include walking and cycling routes through open spaces, and access to open spaces
  • Workplaces have a physical activity programme to encourage employees to move more and be more physically active. Measures can include supporting employees to walk, cycle or use other modes of
  • Schools and early years settings have active travel plans that are monitored and updated annually. Plans should be ambitious, and they should be designed to make change happen, primarily by creating a culture of active travel and changing the environment around the schools
Addressing the WHY

The second report that makes the case for why active travel is a priority area for quality improvement in health and social care is a report produced by Sustrans with partners for Sport England. The report presents a definitive case for investing in active travel to support physical activity. Our expert and independent research team reviewed the best quality evidence and found a wide range of effective interventions that increased walking and cycling, with the strongest evidence pointing to joined-up approaches across whole cities and whole towns.

The review identifies the strongest available material by setting a high quality threshold and including only those studies with a control or comparison group. This degree of rigour is not common outside of academia, but the decision to apply this approach for the review was taken in order that the output provides an authoritative overview. The review found 84 studies meeting the criteria within peer-reviewed and ‘grey’ literature drawn from wide-ranging and non-traditional sources internationally. There is strong and substantial evidence that active travel interventions are effective at increasing walking, cycling and physical activity

A number of recommendations emerge from the study. In investing in active travel, priority should be given to: ‘whole system’-type intervention approaches; identifying appropriate combinations of measures that ‘fit’ locally, based on evidence of need and likelihood of impact; encouraging local agencies to promote active transport as part of their efforts to increase physical activity; securing consistent, long-term funding streams; and enabling funding streams that draw on wide-ranging cross-departmental support.

Clear message for governments

There is a great deal of alignment between the NICE guidance and the Sport England review. Between the two reports there is a very strong case for:

  • Approaches that support active travel through environmental change (building safer, better routes and places) and behaviour change (supporting people’s needs)
  • Working across whole towns and cities to support active travel in a range of different contexts that engage everyone and all trip types
  • Ensuring that measures to increase active travel are designed to fit the local need, and that implementation is supported locally
  • Better recognition of the strength of the link between active travel and physical activity, and of the role that this connection can play in supporting health and social care

The message is clear: walking and cycling as well as other forms of active travel, have a vital role to play in making the UK more active. And in order for us to realise the full benefits of more physical activity, active travel must be a priority area for investment in support of improvement in health and social care.

Find out more about our partnership with Sport England
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HUSS helps identify which schools have above national average rates of walking, scootering and cycling.

Since all 32 local authorities in Scotland signed up in 2010, the Hands Up Scotland Survey (HUSS) has become an Official Statistic. HUSS acts as a valuable record of how children travel to school and nursery in Scotland.

Not only does it provide an overview of travel habits, but local authorities also receive a breakdown of each individual school’s data. This level of detail is not released to the public but can be used to help target schools strategically with the most effective interventions to increase active travel across the country.

HUSS helps identify which schools have above national average rates of walking, scootering and cycling. Pinpointing what has been successful in the past, therefore best practice can be shared between schools in a local authority.  Digging down into the HUSS data can help provide explanations for why certain schools have lower levels of active travel ensuring the schools with most need get the most effective interventions.

By comparing before and after HUSS figures schools can then monitor and assess the effectiveness of initiatives aiming to increase walking, scootering and cycling through new infrastructure and/or behaviour change programmes.

Monitoring the effectiveness of School Streets

School Streets is an initiative that seeks to close the roads directly outside school gates to vehicles, lower emissions and promote active travel. Sustrans used the data collected via HUSS to analyse the mode shift in schools that have already signed up to the programme.

So far the results have been encouraging. Primary schools engaging with School Streets saw a 2.6 percentage point increase in pupils travelling actively to school within two years. In the same time scale, School Streets schools saw a 4.4 percentage point decrease in the use of private motorised vehicles. The evidence suggests that five years after first engaging with Schools Streets, levels of active travel remain higher than prior to School Streets, and levels of private motorised vehicle use remain lower.

Why HUSS is so important

There are many factors that influence how children travel to school: the size of the catchment area, socio-economic differences; urban/rural nature of the region; road layout and the provision of active travel infrastructure and cycle paths.

Having a national survey helps eliminate local bias and inaccuracies, making it possible to compare schools locally and nationally since their figures are collected under the same conditions.

The Hands Up Scotland Survey is a valuable resource of national and local value. Monitoring progress on how schools, local authorities and the Scottish Government are doing when it comes to supporting healthier, greener, sustainable travel choices to school and nursery.

Opportunity for local authorities to share and learn best practice using HUSS figures

For anyone who wants to learn more about how to use HUSS data, Sustrans has organised a free showcase on June 19th at the Lighthouse in Glasgow. It is a collaborative learning event aimed at local authority officers working in health, education and transport. The event will cover:

  • How local authorities and organisations use and extract maximum value out of HUSS data
  • Learn what you could do with HUSS data and share best practice of using HUSS data
  • Provide feedback to Sustrans’ Research and Monitoring unit who produce HUSS on the format of the local authority data reports and what would work best for you
  • Provide ideas for HUSS research and analysis that would benefit local authorities.
Sign up for the HUSS Data showcase Read more about our work in Scotland
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There is strong, substantial evidence that active travel interventions are effective at increasing walking, cycling and physical activity

Dr Nick Cavill, Cavill Associates Ltd and University of Bristol, one of the authors of the 'Active Travel & Physical Activity Evidence Review' report commissioned by Sport England, discusses the report findings and concludes there is strong, substantial evidence that active travel interventions are effective at increasing walking, cycling and physical activity.

If you thought Sport England were only interested in promoting competitive sport and vigorous exercise, read on. Sustrans has recently started a fruitful partnership with the national sporting body, with a focus on active travel.

Sport England recently appointed Sustrans to lead an academic review into the link between active travel and physical activity. This reviewed the current and potential contribution of active travel to physical activity levels, and the effectiveness of active travel interventions at increasing walking, cycling and physical activity.

This review fits neatly into Sport England’s vision that “everyone in England feels able to take part in sport or activity, regardless of age, background or ability.” Note the word activity here. No longer the preserve of sweaty lycra-clad exercise addicts, significant health benefits can be achieved from regular walking and cycling as part of daily life. 

Sport and health

Sport England has been embracing the health agenda for some time. As far back as 1990 they worked with the then Health Education Authority on the world’s first national fitness survey, that led to a significant shift in national physical activity policy. But it is only in recent years that the sporting body has embraced active travel in such a way. Walking to work may never be an Olympic sport, but it has been recognised as a physical activity that has significant benefits to health and society. 

The review

Sustrans teamed up with a number of partners to conduct the review. Most of the reviewing was done by Dr Nick Cavill and Prof. Adrian Davis, with support from an advisory group comprising Dr Charlie Foster, Prof. Harry Rutter and Dr Karen Milton. The team also engaged with academics and practitioners to consider and sense-check the findings.

The main part of the review was into the effectiveness of active travel interventions. This identified the strongest available material by setting a high-quality threshold and including only those studies with a control or comparison group. The review found 84 studies meeting the criteria within peer reviewed and ‘grey’ literature (research that is either unpublished or has been published in non-commercial form) drawn from wide-ranging and non-traditional sources in the UK and internationally.

What did it find?

The review found 61 out of 84 interventions were effective at increasing walking, cycling or physical activity. This includes 36 out of 50 walking interventions, and 41 out of 60 cycling interventions (some covered both). The remainder showed mixed or uncertain results, with a very small number showing decreases.

There is strong, substantial evidence that active travel interventions are effective at increasing walking, cycling and physical activity. Evidence is strongest for town or citywide approaches, often made up of several interventions working together across a whole place.

The review also found good evidence for interventions in a range of settings or approaches including schools, workplaces, interpersonal interventions and marketing.

Is this new?

Reviews of published material never find new results, but this review is important as it brings together the strongest evidence for walking and cycling interventions in one place, to be used by active travel advocates and policymakers.

It is also interesting to note that the results chime well with the findings of a recent report by Friends of the Earth and Transport for Quality of Life. This looked at the potential role of cycling and walking in European towns and cities and placed a great deal of emphasis on creating and sustaining good quality infrastructure for walking and cycling (including e-bikes).

Want to know more?
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Walking and cycling for transport make a valuable contribution to our activity levels. Be it walking to school, cycling to work, or many other everyday journeys, active travel can offer a convenient, accessible and affordable way to move more. For those with busy and hectic lives, it may be one of the few opportunities to create a regular habit.

Sport England commissioned Sustrans, working with Dr Nick Cavill and Prof. Adrian Davis, to assess and highlight the great potential of active travel and mark Sport England’s own ambition for how cycling and walking can support their vision of a more active nation.

Strong case for investing in active travel

The report presents a definitive case for investing in active travel to support physical activity. Our expert, independent research team reviewed the best quality evidence and found a wide range of effective interventions that increased walking and cycling, with the strongest evidence pointing to integrated approaches across whole places.

Eighty-four studies met the inclusion criteria. These were then clustered by a series of intervention typologies:

  • City and town-wide interventions – these involved a mixture of changes to walking and cycling infrastructure eg. cycle lanes and community engagement programmes eg. cycle training.
  • Building or improving routes or networks.
  • Social marketing including marketing of infrastructure.
  • Workplace and other institution based interventions.
  • Interpersonal interventions.
  • School-based programmes.
Conclusions 

Overall, the review concludes that there is strong evidence for the positive impact of interventions to increase or support active travel. This in turn increases levels of physical activity. Of the different intervention typologies the evidence was strongest (in terms of volume and robustness) for city or town-wide interventions. Each of the other intervention types reported some increases in walking and or cycling.

Of 84 studies, over two thirds (61) found interventions had led to increased levels of active travel. Most of the remaining studies showed no significant change or showed mixed results across a number of indicators. A small number showed decreases in active travel.

All of the peer reviewed studies addressing whole town or city-wide interventions showed that interventions increased levels of cycling and walking compared to controls. The evidence available for city and town-wide programmes shows change at the population level. However, the evaluations did not discriminate between different population sub-groups.

The review also found evidence for the positive impact of walking and cycling interventions at a more localised level. Interventions to build or improve local routes or networks report increased walking or cycling in most cases.

Recommendations

The report provides clear consensus of active travel’s huge potential. To harness this, it’s crucial we engage with and listen to people in the places they live and work – to recognise barriers, challenges and local context, and understand how active travel can work for them. The report also carries recommendations to invest and collaborate in active travel more effectively –  an important reminder of how further research and robust evaluation can help us continue to improve provision and delivery.

The message is clear: active travel has a vital role to play in achieving a more active nation. This review is an important step towards fulfilling that promise.

A number of recommendations emerge from the study. In investing in active travel, priority should be given to: ‘whole system’-type intervention approaches; identifying appropriate combinations of measures that ‘fit’ locally, based on evidence of need and likelihood of impact; encouraging local agencies to promote active transport as part of their efforts to increase physical activity; securing consistent, long-term funding streams; and enabling funding streams that draw on wide-ranging cross-departmental support.

Sustrans and our partners on this project would like to thank Sport England, our expert advisory panel, and our theory-into-practice workshop participants of key stakeholders. All contributors are listed in the report.

Read the full report
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We need more widespread high-quality infrastructure and slower streets to make children and young people safer, especially in deprived areas.

Edinburgh datazone with pie charts of accidents taking place there. Areas high on the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation highlighted in red.

Aberdeen datazone with pie charts of accidents taking place there. Areas high on the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation highlighted in red.

Glasgow Centre datazone with pie charts of accidents taking place there. Areas high on the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation highlighted in red.

Children on foot or bike are more than 3 times as likely to be involved in a collision with a vehicle in the 20% most deprived areas in Scotland than the 20% least deprived areas.

We need more widespread high-quality infrastructure and slower streets to make children and young people safer, especially in deprived areas.

What we have been studying

Though it is well-established that there are more road traffic accidents in more deprived areas, we have been researching just children travelling on foot or bike only.

Sustrans Scotland compared road casualty data for slight and serious injuries with the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation to work out the risk to children in different areas. This produced the average risk of being involved in an incident across Scotland depending on level of deprivation.

What we found

The risk for a child on foot or bike of being involved in a road traffic accident increases as areas become more deprived. From an average of 0.25 incidents per data zone in the least deprived areas to an average of 0.83 incidents per data zone in the most deprived areas.

Children on foot and bikes are at a disproportionate risk of injury in deprived areas.

Why is this?

We do not know and this research isn’t designed to tell us. The truth is that everywhere will be different and there are lots of interwoven factors that lead to this social injustice.
However, our work delivering walking and cycling infrastructure and working with communities leads us to a few theories:

  • Deprived areas are often denser and busier, so you might expect more casualties as there are more people around.
  • Deprived areas are more likely to host busy and fast roads that are more dangerous.
  • Car ownership is likely to be low in these areas (though cars driving through might be high) which means that more people are out on foot or a bike on the way to school or work.
  • There may be a lack of investment in infrastructure and locals may not have the time or resources to complain or organise a response.
What do we want to happen?

Though we are not sure why this is happening, we do know what we can do to reduce this inequality and deliver safer streets. The most effective preventative measures are safe infrastructure and slower speed limits.

  • Infrastructure: evidence shows pedestrian safety requires appropriate crossings, wide pavements, and comfortable walking routes. And for cycling, segregated space offers the biggest improvement.
  • Lower speed limits: Protecting children from cars means that we need to slow down cars. Slower streets reduce both the number and severity of collisions. 20mph has been particularly effective in deprived communities, where it halved casualties in the most deprived areas of London.
  • There is a need for more research to better understand the causes of this inequality.

If we want more people walking and cycling, and more children seeing the health benefits of active travel to school, we need to start by making our streets safer places - especially in Scotland’s most disadvantaged areas.

Find out more about our work in Scotland
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Lorcan began struggling to breathe in June 2018 following a cold.

©RayMalone. When Lorcan was first diagnosed his consultant advised us to walk on quieter back streets and try to avoid taking the tube.

A growing body of evidence demonstrates a link between poor air quality and asthma, with recent findings revealing the UK has the highest rates of childhood asthma caused by air pollution in Europe. As many as one in five new cases of child asthma in the UK are linked to traffic fumes and other pollution, totalling nearly 40,000 cases a year – a worryingly high figure.

Pollution from traffic can damage airways, leading to inflammation and the development of asthma in children who are genetically predisposed to the condition. Lorcan, aged two and a half, was diagnosed with a severe viral wheeze in June 2018. Since then, he has been in and out of hospital following seven episodes, with consultants confirming that air pollution from cars is a significant contributory factor.

Ruth Fitzharris, based in Crouch End in North London, shares her story about Lorcan’s condition and what she thinks needs to be done to clean up the Capital’s dirty air.

London's toxic air

Ruth said: “When Lorcan was first diagnosed his consultant advised us to walk on quieter back streets and try to avoid taking the tube which is hugely debilitating in the capital. Since then I have felt trapped. I used to enjoy taking him into central London but now those places are bad for him and the air is becoming noticeably worse.

“Even in my local area, walking down the road you can see back-to-back traffic pumping out toxic fumes. A simple trip to the shops is an anxiety-inducing experience but I don’t have any choice in the air my son and I breathe.  

“ I don’t have time to wait for the Government to take action. I met another mother in a similar situation a couple of month’s back who has now left Islington and is living in Winchester. This is the reality of the Capital’s chronic air problem. ”

- Ruth Fitzharris
The impact of air pollution on little lungs

“Over the course of the past year, Lorcan’s had seven episodes. Because of this, he has been in and out of hospital for three days at a time to receive intense treatment. This involves receiving medication through an inhaler for which he has to be pinned down because he is too young and distressed to co-operate, with each episode he has been given the inhaler around 50 times, oxygen masks and nebulisers and a medication called prednisolone which can inhibit growth.

“As a result, Lorcan’s height and weight has slipped from the 50th to the 9th centile. He has also become less agile and he’s missed out on quite a lot of playing with other children and going to the nursery – the sort of things that other children take for granted.

“He is too young to understand that he has to have the medication and becomes extremely agitated, so he’s not able to sleep much while in hospital. The process is very distressing for us both and we don’t get much sleep at the hospital.

“Because of the frequency of his episodes, my plans to get a job have been delayed and I cancelled being maid of honour at my best friend’s wedding. This recovery time from each episode is physically and mentally draining. And not just for me, the whole family is on edge whenever he goes back to hospital. The anxiety and stress has a huge impact on our everyday life.

Reducing our dependency on cars

“There needs to be a big reduction in the use of polluting vehicles in cities. There is traffic everywhere you look. Public transport is very congested and our cities lack an extensive well-connected cycling network like in Holland. It would be fantastic to retrofit dedicated cycling and walking infrastructure on our roads.

“We’re lucky that we have access to medication which has prevented him from having an episode for four months. But that doesn’t stop the anxiety and stress I feel when taking the tube or walking down a road packed full of cars idling their engines.

“I don’t have time to wait for the Government to take action. I met another mother in a similar situation a couple of month’s back who has now left Islington and is living in Winchester. This is the reality of the Capital’s chronic air problem. Probably the only way to escape it is to leave.”

Read on about Sustran's air quality projects here. 

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