Yorkshire cycling website


Why Harrogate relief road is a terrible idea 3: the way we travel is killing us

Public Health England road transport chart

Chart from Public Health England report on active travel

Active travel is good for our health in many different ways; travel by private car is bad for our health in many different ways.

Made to Move

In his role as Walking and Cycling Commissioner in Greater Manchester, Chris Boardman produced a report called Made to Move. It contains a chapter headed 'The Way We Travel is Killing Us'.

The chapter notes that, according to the Royal College of Physicians, air pollution causes 40,000 premature deaths per year in the UK, at an estimated social cost of £22 billion per year. Children suffer with asthma due to excess motor traffic. As the average number of walking trips has dropped by 16% over the last 20 years, obesity has increased, especially among children. In Manchester, the cost of physical inactivity to the NHS is more than £500,000 per week.

Public Health England

In a report in May 2016 called Working Together to Promote Active Travel, Public Health England noted that 'walking and cycling are good for our physical and mental health...[and] will improve health, quality of life and the environment, and local productivity.'

Some of the report's key points echo those in Made to Move.

Physical inactivity directly contributes to 1 in 6 deaths in the UK and costs £7.4 billion a year to business and wider society. Physical activity is called an under-rated 'wonder drug'.

The growth in road traffic has been a major factor in reducing levels of physical activity and increasing obesity. It also results in road traffic collisions and injuries (2,082 children killed or seriously injured in 2014), air pollution, noise, and reduced social cohesion and increased social isolation for many.

People living in a street with heavy traffic have fewer friends and acquaintances on the street than those living in a quiet one.

Short car trips (under 5 miles) are a prime area for switching to active travel and to public transport.


[Update 30th October 2018] The UK Health Alliance on Climate Change produced a report today, which notes some of the damaging effects of air pollution caused by motor vehicles. They include asthma, emphysema, bronchiectasis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cancer, stroke and dementia.

Professor Jonathan Grigg of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health described the situation in 2018, where children playing outside or walking to school are affected by toxic levels of air pollution as 'a disgrace'.

The report calls for a new Clean Air Act, with legally binding standards of air quality, and for investment of £10 per head in active travel.

Harrogate & Knaresborough

The evidence is clear: pollution from vehicles is a disaster for our health, and our children's health. The way we travel needs to change.

Short trips which could easily be walked or cycled

In their November 2017 report on the Congestion Generator Road for North Yorkshire County Council, consultants WSP noted (paragraph 2.6.4) that trips that are purely internal to Harrogate and Knaresborough make up nearly half of all trips. External to external trips are only 7%.

The average distance of internal trips within Harrogate alone (rather than Harrogate & Knaresborough), which is about 37% of all trips in the district, is 2.6km (paragraph 2.6.5). That is 1.6 miles - a moderate walk, or a short cycle ride.

In Harrogate and Knaresborough, there is huge scope to increase the amount of active travel. Distances are generally short. It is an enjoyable way of getting around, and it will be good for us. But there has to be a complete network of routes that are safe and attractive. The more you ask people to share routes with speeding cars and trucks, the less they will cycle or walk. People would like routes in parks away from traffic. Instead, in Harrogate they are given 'no cycling' notices painted in huge letters.

No Cycling sign, Harrogate

A new road means more traffic, more pollution, less active travel, and more health problems

The NYCC Executive promoting a new road are intent on more of what we've had in recent decades - more traffic, more pollution, more divided and isolated communities and individuals, more road danger, and more health problems related to inactivity.

Motor vehicles are not benign and neutral. They do drive everything else off the roads. Apparently, school children can't even go on a trip to the park without being made to wear high-viz gilets. Surely there is a design fault with our roads if the onus is being put on potential victims to avoid being hit by traffic.

We need vehicles, and we're never going to get rid of them completely, but it's vital that they don't dominate everywhere, and ruin our health and quality of life.

This Congestion Generator Road project demonstrates a lack of vision, and a lack of will to change things in a positive way. It shows a determination to repeat all the mistakes of the past, and not to learn from them.

A new approach

What's needed is a new approach for healthy people and liveable places.

Walking and cycling should be prioritised, for health reasons and because it will make our town so much more pleasant. Where motor traffic creates danger and pollution in the places where people live, work, and shop, it should be calmed and restricted. There should be top-quality provision for walking and cycling in town and residential areas, and priority should be given to those who choose to travel that way.

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Cycling UK poll

5th June 2018

Closed road cycling in York

A poll of 2,000 British adults for Cycling UK reveals the top reasons why more people don't cycle. They include sharing the road with large vehicles and close passes. What would encourage more people to ride bikes? Find out about the Cycling UK poll.

Harrogate relief road

Harrogate relief road

A brief summary of events so far in relation to a so-called relief road being promoted by an Executive on North Yorkshire County Council - in spite of overwhelming oppostion from Harrogate councillors - and a couple of reasons why it is a terrible idea.

Read about Harrogate relief road.

Roe deer, Bilton Lane Traffic jam, HarrogateSparrow, Bilton Lane