Measures to encourage people to walk or cycle more: new NICE guidance

walking and cycling

Help, we’re only in the second week of December and I have already eaten 24 mince pies and 12 sausage rolls! ‘Tis the season to be jolly and to lose all self control, or so it seems. Finding ways to burn off those extra calories is the answer if you want to avoid total body expansion.

So I was interested to read a guidance report by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) that aims to set out how local measures can be employed to encourage people to increase the amount they walk or cycle for travel or recreational purposes.

The health benefits associated with an increase in physical activity are well documented.  If these alone aren’t enough to convince you to walk or cycle more, the report also highlights how increases in these activities can reduce air pollution, congestion and road danger.  Increasing the number of people on the streets has it benefits too by making public spaces seem more welcoming and providing an opportunity for social interaction and enjoyment of the outdoor environment.

After consideration of relevant evidence (which came predominantly from an urban perspective) the Programme Development Group (PDG) recognised that encouraging and enabling people to walk or cycle requires action by many different sectors. An important area that must be addressed is the reduction of road dangers and the reallocation of road space to provide a more supportive environment for changes.

Ten recommendations identified three main areas, policy and planning, local programmes and finally schools, workplaces and the NHS and here they are in brief:

  • High-level support from the health sector is needed with coordinated cross-sector work to promote cycling and walking
  • Local, high-level strategic policies and plans should support and encourage both walking and cycling by investing sufficient funds and be developed in conjunction with relevant voluntary and community organisations
  • Programmes at the local authority level should be linked to existing national initiatives.  In terms of transport planning, pedestrians and cyclists should be considered before other user groups and not as an after thought
  • Help those interested in changing their travel behaviour to make small daily changes by commissioning personalised travel planning programmes providing information and help e.g. tickets, maps and timetables
  • Cycling programmes should be introduced town-wide, infrastructure and planning issues addressed e.g. ensure local facilities are easily accessible by bicycle, and training, cycle parking and residential storage made available
  • Community-wide programmes linked to national and local walking intitiatives should address issues that may discourage people from walking e.g. traffic volume speed, lack of convenient road crossings and poorly maintained footways
  • Individual support made available for those walking on their own, informally in a group or participating in local programmes.  This could be provided face to face, via the telephone or by using printed materials, email, the Internet or text messaging.  Pedometers have been successfully used as part of a support package to set realistic goals, monitoring and feedback
  • Schools should support physically active travel for journeys to school for staff, parents and students and allow all children to take part in ‘Bikeability’ training offered by the Department of Transport
  • Employers should also develop strategies in consultation with staff to promote walking and cycling in and around the workplace
  • The NHS should incorporate information on walking and cycling into all physical activity advice given by health professionals

It’s worrying reading to learn that in 2009 studies showed that 61% of men and 71% of women in England aged over 16 years did not meet the national recommended physical activity levels. Incredible to read too that in London alone, an estimated 4.3 million car or bus trips a day could be cycled.  This report certainly highlights the need for us to get walking and cycling whenever we can.  Improving our health and impacting on climate change at the same time?!  It’s a win, win situation boys and girls.  Go on, pump up your tyres and use pedal power to get to work today.


PH41 Walking and cycling: local measures to promote walking and cycling as form of travel or recreation [PDF]. NICE public health guidance 41. 28 November 2012.