Embedding health into transport planning

There is clear evidence that regular walking and cycling lowers our risk of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, strokes, obesity, depression and other health issues. Local authorities that promote active travel can therefore significantly lower the health costs on the NHS and wider economy. In short, local transport planning that has a public health lens makes for fitter employees, less absenteeism and a more robust and prosperous economy.


In Bristol, it is estimated that the National Health Service spends £3.2m annually treating people for illnesses and conditions arising from physical inactivity.

To counteract this Bristol City Council recruited experts in public health to work in key departments, including transport.

Since their appointment in 2008, the public health and transport planning specialist has liaised closely with senior transport officers and the relevant Councillor, to ingrain a public health perspective into the department. This has meant creating easily understandable, evidence-based materials for planners, and making it standard to use the WHO’s Health Economic Assessment Tool for policy making. This has informed the development of many walking, cycling and integrated strategies for physical activity, including targeting hard to reach communities.

Outlining the economic case has also helped win over senior politicians: the Bristol Director of Public Health has estimated that an investment of £1 in 2016 would return £54 in 2021, a figure based on 348 adults from a group of 987 inactive adults becoming more active.

The positive outcomes resulting from the city’s initiatives are clear. From 2001 to 2011, the amount of people cycling for their commute increased by 94%, with 40% more people walking to work. The two most pronounced changes were the increase in cycling and reduction in car use.

See what you can do