Guest blog post: Healthy Streets, Thriving Cities

Lucy Saunders is a Consultant in Public Health at the Greater London Authority and Transport for London leading on transport. Lucy developed the Healthy Streets Approach set out in the recently launched recently launched ‘Healthy Streets for London’ policy which sets out an important new approach for the Mayor and TfL, working with its partners and stakeholders to make London’s streets better for everyone’.

Transport has a huge influence on the character of our cities, and the experience of living, working and spending time in them.

As urban transport authorities, we don’t just help move people around cities, we tackle strategic challenges, from poor air quality to improving access to employment opportunities. It is clear that investment in transport is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

For many years, our cities have depended on cars for people to get around. Reliance on them is resulting in congestion and air pollution as these cities grow. It has also tied too many of us into living inactive lives, contributing to one of the most serious health challenges we have ever faced.

Inactive lifestyles are one of the biggest threats to public health, increasing the risk of developing a range of chronic diseases including diabetes, dementia, depression, heart disease and cancer.

Urban transport authorities have a crucial role to play in addressing that threat. After all, walking, cycling and using public transport to get around are the easiest ways to stay active in urban areas.

That’s why UTG recently convened a meeting bringing together a range of bodies, from Public Health England to the Treasury, to look at how what we can do to deliver the greatest health benefits from our transport systems, working together.

At that meeting, I presented the Healthy Streets Approach the Mayor and TfL are taking in London.

While we have had some success in moving people out of cars in London, we know there is more we need to do. Our new approach is about putting people and their health at the heart of transport planning to deliver the Mayor’s determination to help every Londoner live an active life, to improve air quality and make London a fairer, more inclusive city.
It is our ambition for all Londoners to walk or cycle for 20 minutes every day. Two 10-minute periods of brisk walking or cycling a day is enough for adults to get the level of physical activity recommended to avoid the greatest health risks associated with inactivity. At present, only about a third of adults in the Capital are reporting this level of activity on a given day.

Lucy Saunders infographic

If we achieve this, one in six early deaths among Londoners could be prevented and many more people would avoid cancer, heart disease and diabetes. It would help combat social isolation, and reduce congestion as well. As more than 90 per cent of Londoners already walk each week, we are building on a strong foundation.

Most journeys made by Londoners start, end, or happen entirely on our streets. Indeed, 80 per cent of Londoners’ travel time is spent on our streets – including bus trips and journeys to and from Tube and rail stations.

We are putting the Healthy Streets Approach at the heart of everything we do. We will prioritise walking, cycling and public transport over private vehicles, investing record sums to ensure that we improve outcomes for customers. The funding we have allocated will be invested in a fundamentally new way, looking not at single transport modes as we have done in the past, but taking a wider ‘whole streets’ view of how streets function to best deliver for people.

We will make streets less traffic dominated and more welcoming, tackle poor air quality and ensure that housing, shops and services are built close to transport interchanges, to make sure more people have what they need within walking distance of home.

Every part of our business will prioritise Healthy Streets. Across the Capital, we will focus on improving the experience of travelling through and spending time on London’s streets. The Healthy Streets Approach uses 10 evidence-based indicators of what makes streets attractive places. Working towards these will help to create a healthier city, in which all people are included and can live well, and where inequalities are reduced.

Lucy saunders infographic2

The benefits are not limited to good health and wellbeing. The things that make a street work well for people are the same things that make a street work well for local and international businesses, and that create a resilient and sustainable environment.

We cannot deliver Healthy Streets alone. We need to work in partnership with public, private and community sectors to make sure we deliver against the 10 Healthy Streets Indicators.

We are already working with London boroughs, developers and landowners to ensure they can embed the approach in the design of their streets and public spaces. The Metropolitan Police provide on-street enforcement and education to help people to feel safe on our streets. We are working with businesses which will benefit from the economic improvements the Healthy Streets Approach will deliver, and freight companies to manage the impact of freight on our streets. We’re providing training and support to schools and community groups to promote cycling, walking and public transport.

This is a challenge common to all cities across the UK and the Healthy Streets Approach can be adapted to address the unique challenges and opportunities of any city. We will continue to share our experience with other cities. Working together, we can create attractive, thriving streets which encourage active travel and also incorporate sustainable servicing and deliveries. This can start to address our nationwide health crisis, while supporting local businesses and regional economies.

Lucy Saunders, Transport for London

Around the world of school travel

In this special guest post, school transport expert Sian Thornthwaite looks at the challenges of the school journey around the world and finds an increasing amount of common ground. Sian is the founder of specialist school transport consultancy STC and co-founder of Interchangeability, an international school transport conference taking place 15-18th June 2014, near London.

Pupils walking along a cliff-side to a school in China (Atlantic Cities/Reuters)

The walk to a school in China (Atlantic Cities/Reuters)

Anyone working in passenger transport in the UK is aware that school admissions season is upon us, meaning transport applications and challenges over entitlement to free or subsidised travel. Does a child live just over the 3 mile distance, should you measure it from the gate, front door, child’s bedroom door or his bed?! When is a school the nearest one, when is a walking route walkable?

Despite being a wealthy western country, the UK is mean with its transport offer to young people – only 10% qualify for free school travel, outside the PTEs few have any concessionary fares, and the offer is being drawn ever tighter. Authorities are withdrawing post 16 transport, removing free travel for those attending faith schools or increasing charges in an attempt to balance diminishing budgets. There is little doubt that for pupils and parents in the UK the school journey will become more difficult and expensive in future years.

Despite this, few young people in the UK face an impossible journey to school. Many will complain of traffic levels, road safety, fears of abduction, or the inconvenience for parents of having to take children when they work. These fears and problems are real and many countries make life considerably easier – half of pupils receive free travel in the States, a third in Sweden – but what of elsewhere?

Globally more than 57 million primary school age children are out of school (UNESCO, June 2013) – not through truancy, school phobia or absenteeism – but often because they cannot get there. Half will never set foot through the school door; a further 23% will drop out. One major reason is their journey to school is too long, difficult or dangerous.

My transport career started in Northumberland 30 years ago. One of my first tasks being to check transport contracts for children living on Lindisfarne, where tides dictated whether they went to school that day on the mainland, teacher came to them, or they boarded. However, the inconvenience of tide times pales into insignificance compared to journeys for many young people where damaged infrastructure, flooding, armed conflicts and wild animals, not to mention extremely long distances all contribute to being unable to get an education.

Recently, I’ve been fortunate to work with education and transport providers in China and the Middle East. Such countries are expanding their passenger transport systems and building new schools at dizzying speed, yet there as here concerns about both personal security and road safety feature strongly. There is ongoing discussion about how children with special needs are included. In developing cities as here sustainability, congestion and pollution are major concerns and the peak hour demands of the school journey a major contributing factor. Escalating transport costs and rapidly rising rates of childhood obesity are also concentrating minds around the world.

UK children may not have to brave wild elephants as their Sri Lankan counterparts do on their school journey; nor do transport planners here have to think too hard about designing bus services to cope with 40+ degree temperatures as in Abu Dhabi, but whether delivering passenger transport in Dubai, Delhi, Denver or Dudley there’s increasingly common ground.

Parents’ and pupils’ concerns are universal – access to education, increasing costs, timeliness, quality of service, personal security and safety. Policy makers face the same challenges of reducing road congestion, tackling childhood obesity and balancing limited budgets against rising expectations. All must recognise that passenger and school transport matters.

School transport, school planning, special needs, working and consulting with young people, travel training, marketing bus services to young people, and dealing with the media will all be themes covered at our upcoming school transport conference June 15-18th 2014, near London. Discounts are available on day rates and full conference for pteg members.

Sian Thornthwaite

Bus Stop to Better Health

Waiting for the busIn this special guest post, Nick Bosanquet, Emeritus Professor of Health Policy at Imperial College sets out ways in which transport support could be used to connect people to work and therefore to better health.

The great health divide

There is a huge hidden problem of economic loss and wasted potential in the UK. At present 18 per cent of the adult working age population are out of the workforce permanently and another 7 per cent are unemployed. This is the great health divide.

There is a spiral of decline by which inactivity leads to worsening of health, poor diet and ever lower activity. Long term medical conditions affect those out of the workforce so that within a few years, levels of disability are 50 per cent in the inactive group. There is a great deal of misery and wasted human potential as well as higher mortality.

Economic inactivity creates a major burden in the form of increased welfare payments and loss of output. If the inactivity rate were the same across the UK as in the South East—around 9 per cent—the net gain to the public sector would be £100bn in reduced support payments and increased tax revenues.

If policy makers are serious about health inequality and poverty they have got to make a priority of providing assistance back into the workforce. Given that around half of households in the lowest income quintile have no access to a car or van, support to connect to employment opportunities using public transport, cycling and walking should form a key component of this assistance.

What might such a programme look like?

A new back-to-work rehabilitation programme

Working in partnership with other sectors  (including transport) the Department of Health, NHS England and the Department for Work and Pensions could develop special investment programmes for jobseekers including counselling and a special 12 week back-to-work rehabilitation programme.

The programme would need to reflect the complex range of barriers to employment faced by each individual – from childcare to housing issues. From a transport perspective, the programme could, for example, include personalised journey planning support to broaden travel horizons and help people understand the range of opportunities they can reach using public transport, walking and cycling. It could also include three month back-to-work travel passes to help meet the costs of travelling to interviews and travel costs during the first weeks of a new job.

The precise format of support should be informed by research into how people outside of the workforce view their main transport problems as well as by a consultation on the most cost effective means of providing transport support to jobseekers.

WorkWise signSuch a consultation could draw on the expertise of PTEs who have a long and successful track record of developing local initiatives that help unemployed people into work by removing transport barriers (WorkWise schemes, for example).

There is an opportunity for supporting these existing local schemes as well as further creative approaches which show how localism can produce results on an intractable problem that Whitehall policies have struggled with over the last 20 years. PTEs understand their local communities and the transport barriers they may face and are well placed to tailor interventions accordingly.

Greater integration between transport and health

These new back-to-work programmes could form part of a broader drive towards greater integration between the health and transport sectors.

GPs now have more power though the Clinical Commissioning Groups, whilst Directors of Public Health have a ring-fenced budget for spending on public health interventions. These powers could be used to commission provision that supports people back into employment or encourages them to become more active through everyday activities like walking and cycling.

There needs to be an organized drive across government on improving travel to work to assist more people back into the workforce. The next few years give an excellent opportunity to help those outside the workforce to share in the recovery.

Professor Nick Bosanquet