People put off from cycling or walking due to lack of investment – report

Underfunding of active travel across England has left many people reluctant to walk or cycle, according to a think tank.

This causes more road congestion and contributes to worsening air quality, a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) said.

The study found that just 2% of the Government’s transport budget for England is spent on active travel infrastructure.

An average of £148 per person per year was spent on roads between 2016 and 2021, which was more than 10 times the amount spent on active travel, the think tank stated.

The report noted that fewer than one in five people in England are walking, wheeling – such as using a wheelchair – or cycling to make journeys on an average day, compared with more than a quarter across Europe.

The document claimed that pedestrians are “at considerable risk on British roads” and “the perception of a lack of safety is a key barrier to people cycling”.

It cited Department for Transport (DfT) figures showing 6,435 children were involved in collisions on Britain’s roads while walking, wheeling or cycling in 2022, of whom 1,748 were killed or seriously injured.

The IPPR called for £35 per person per year to be invested in active travel infrastructure for a decade, including the installation of at least 25,000 miles of protected cycle paths.

A further £15 per person should be spent each year on interventions to change behaviour, such as training for cyclists and loans for electric bikes, according to the report.

Lead author Maya Singer Hobbs, senior research fellow at the IPPR, said: “Cycling in the UK peaked 75 years ago. Since then, UK Government policy has locked in car dependency, making people walk-wary and cycle-cautious, at the expense of our health, our environment and our economy.

“Investment in active travel infrastructure to get more people walking and wheeling is crucial to cutting emissions and improving growth.”

IPPR principal research fellow Stephen Frost said: “This research reveals what could be achieved if all the warm words from Government about the value of walking, wheeling and cycling were matched with investment.

“Diverting just a small percentage of the billions invested by the Government in car travel could make our streets safer for everyone travelling under their own steam.

“Children could move around more freely, we’d all have better access to green space and nature, people would be healthier and less isolated and local high streets could be thriving.

“All this while also moving us closer to achieving the UK’s legally-binding climate commitments.

“Active travel is among the safest investments in transport – a future UK Government must put its money in the right place.”

Sarah Mitchell, chief executive of charity Cycling UK, said: “When it comes to active travel, Scotland and Wales are investing to reap the benefits that come from increased spending, while England remains the poor relation.

“It seems the UK Government didn’t get the memo and we therefore hope this new research will shift attitudes across Westminster so that walking, wheeling and cycling shoots up the list of investment priorities.”

A DfT spokesperson said: “We are investing over £3 billion to support active travel during this Parliament, more than any previous Government.

“This report also overlooks our record increase of £8.3 billion to resurface roads with reallocated HS2 funding, which will also benefit those who cycle on our roads.”