Smart Transport

Making the case for active travel. Laura Laker outlines why urban planners must prioritise walking and cycling over cars and road investment

Making the case for active travel

Planners need to think more about cycling and walking and less about the road network and car ownership, suggests Laura Laker

It’s not often an engineer makes a speech that goes viral.

However, when Urban Movement’s Brian Deegan spoke at the Dublin Joint Committee on Climate Change, any atmosphere of polite interest evaporated and people sat up and took notice.

Urban design engineer Deegan, the mastermind behind Manchester’s bold cycling and walking plans, described growing up in 1970s in Moss Side.

Making the case for active travel

Like many children of that era, Deegan and his friends kicked a ball about on the cobbled streets of their Mancunian neighbourhood, until one day asphalt was laid “in the name of progress”.

“Suddenly it became quite difficult to play football,” said Deegan, “because you couldn’t get out of the way of the cars in time. It no longer became a place to play.”

A friend of Deegan’s, Stephen, was hit by a car. It became difficult for Stephen to focus, and he “slipped out of school”. After that, Deegan says, many parents started bringing their kids indoors. 

“Only the bad kids were left outside,” said Deegan. “Kids like myself. In the ’70s, early ’80s, really the presence of a young person on the streets of Moss Side meant you were up to no good, and the police started coming around, throwing us in the back of vans and beating us, just for being on the street.

“Eventually one kid got killed, the riots started, all the streets burned down, all the shops smashed in there, and that’s that,” he concluded.

If one wanted to sum up the changes that have befallen our streets during the rapid advance of the motor car, you would be hard pressed to find a more striking example.

Benefits of active travel

Evidence for the benefits of active travel, i.e. walking and cycling, are plentiful, from the obvious boosts to physical health, to cutting carbon emissions, air pollution and congestion. If cycling outside of London were to catch up with what’s happening in the capital, it could save the NHS £319 million over the next 21 years, it is estimated.

Then there are the less obvious benefits, which include reductions in social isolation, improving children’s performance at school, reducing noise pollution, boosting the economies of towns and cities and tackling transport inequalities.

One European Commission estimate of the return on investment for cycling infrastructure is as high as 20:1, significantly more than road and rail.


In London this year, the Parliamentary Transport Committee held an inquiry into what would encourage people to walk and cycle more in the UK and the barriers stopping them.

Committee members visited Greater Manchester, where city mayor, former Labour health secretary Andy Burnham, is investing £160m in cycling and walking, part of what he hopes will be a £1.4 billion active travel network. Burnham feels walking and cycling is unique as a transport investment in that the two reap economic, environmental and health returns.

He recognises a major culture change is needed to achieve widespread uptake of active travel, though, both in society and the way we plan our streets.

Stop building for the car

At the inaugural meeting of the UK’s cycling and walking commissioners in Manchester, Burnham said: “We’ve got to stop building for the car – we cannot carry on doing that. Wherever you travel around the UK, you can feel the effects of congestion … the issues around air quality. We can’t think in the way we thought in the past, we have to do things differently.”

How can we stop 'building for the car'? Read the full article, Making the case for active travel (PDF), taken from the Smart Transport Journal.

Comment as guest

Login  /  Register


No comments have been made yet.

Related content

Office Address
  • Smart Transport
    Media House
    Lynch Wood
    PE2 6EA
Join the community
  • Smart Transport is the UK's most important brand to bring together senior public policy makers and influential private sector leaders to showcase real-time solutions aligned to government policy.
  • Find out more
  • Insight


Welcome to Smart Transport

Welcome to the Smart Transport website, keeping you up-to-date with the latest news, insight and reports from policymakers and thought leaders.

The Smart Transport brand connects policy to solutions by bringing national government and local authority policymakers together with private sector organisations.

Contact Lindsay Greatbatch for more information.

© Bauer Consumer Media Ltd
Media House, Lynch Wood, Peterborough, PE2 6EA - Registered number 01176085 IPSO regulated logo


Smart Transport members

Smart Transport board members


Please note:
By submitting any material to us you are confirming that the material is your own original work or that you have permission from the copyright owner to use the material and to authorise Bauer Consumer Media to use it as described in this paragraph. You also promise that you have permission from anyone featured or
referred to in the submitted material to it being used by Bauer Consumer Media. If Bauer Consumer Media receives a claim from a copyright owner or a person
featured in any material you have sent us, we will inform that person that you have granted us permission to use the relevant material and you will be responsible for paying any amounts due to the copyright owner or featured person and/or for reimbursing Bauer Consumer Media for any losses it has suffered as a result.