Active mobility, active travel, active transport or active transportation, is a form of transport of people and sometimes goods, that only uses the physical activity of the human being for the locomotion. The most known forms of active mobility are walking or cycling, though other mobility means such as running, skateboard, kick scooter or roller skates are also a form of active mobility. In certain latitudes and elevations, practical transportation may also include cross-country skiing and snowshoeing,, perhaps only in the winter season.
The academical literature evidences that public policies which promote active mobility tend to increase health indicators by increasing the levels of physical fitness and reducing the rates of obesity and diabetes, whilst also reducing the consumption of fossil fuels and consequent particulates, Nitrous Oxide and Carbon emissions.
Health and environment
Serious health and environmental problems, especially global climate change due to fossil fuel usage and the continued increase in obesity, are a current political concern. A House of Commons of the United Kingdom Health Committee report into Obesity in 2004 recommended promoting and facilitating cycling and walking as key components of an integrated anti-obesity strategy, suggesting "physical activity incorporated into the fabric of everyday life". Public Health England estimated in 2016 that in the UK, physical inactivity directly contributes to one in six deaths every year. The PHE report notes that including walking and cycling to daily routines is the most effective way to increase physical activity and reduce levels of obesity, as well as prevent cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer and several mental illnesses, including depression. Physical exercise can improve mental as well as physical health.
Studies have shown that the recent global increase in levels of obesity can be attributed to the decrease in physical activity by children and adults. This is also as a result of an increase in more sedentary forms of leisure (TV, video games) and to low levels of walking and cycling. Correlational studies have shown that across socio-economic groupings in the UK caloric intake does not vary significantly, whereas activity levels and BMI do, and are closely correlated to each other. Cross-sectional studies indicate that sedentary people can lower their BMI by increasing physical activity, but much smaller effects were seen in a prospective cohort study.
Responses from the public administrations
In response to the high level of sedentarian life-style and automobile usage, which have negative environmental and health effects, a recent movement has emerged led by public health and environmental campaigners to advocate for stronger policies and practices that promote active travel, and make cycling and walking safer and more attractive. The intention being that these modes could, in many instances, replace car usage for everyday journeys to school, shops, public services, etc. To facilitate this would require local planning and highway authorities to invest in ensuring safe routes are available to these destinations (danger from other road traffic is frequently cited as the primary reason for not cycling). In many areas, the current focus of development for cycling infrastructure is on isolated leisure trails, resulting in highly fragmented cycle routes and pavements/sidewalks, which do not link effectively to everyday destinations. Governments can take the initiative to establish active transportation programs and plans, such as California's Active Transportation Program (ATP), Portland, Oregon's Regional Active Transportation Plan, Fort Worth, Texas ATP and San Diego County ATP, as well as Active and Sustainable School Transportation (ASST) planning and implementation, such as in Hamilton, Ontario.
In 2012 Polis, a network of European cities and regions, published a position paper that calls upon European institutions and other European actors to take action, to ensure that the promotion of health benefits of active travel are maximised in all relevant European policies and programmes. Recommendation are based on references in European policy documents to improving health through active travel which should form the basis of shared objectives, policies, work programmes and investment to increase levels of walking and cycling.
Specific recommendations include:
- Clearly identifying a leader for the work on active travel and health in the European Commission.
- Consulting stakeholders from the health, environment and transport sectors to explore the opportunity of European initiatives.
- Internalisation of external costs in transport aimed at ensuring that all health costs are taken into account, including physical inactivity.
- Taking the economic dimension of active mobility, and the long-term savings it can generate in healthcare costs and environmental benefits, systematically into consideration when appraising transport and urban development plans and policies.
- Institutions at the European level may wish to consider funding activities to secure the benefits of active travel in Europe.
In 2008, the UK Association of Directors of Public Health, with Sustrans, CTC, The Ramblers and other agencies, launched a Call to Action on Active Travel. This sets out a number of clear goals for local planning and highway authorities. If achieved, these goals could mark an effective response to the steadily increasing problem of obesity, and also help reduce carbon emissions. However, the process for monitoring progress towards these goals (beyond anecdotal good-news stories) and holding councils to account for their performance, is weak, and threatens to undermine progress towards the goals:
- A 20 mph (32 km/h) speed limit to be made the norm in residential areas
- A coherent high quality network of cycle routes that link everyday destinations
- Improved driver training and better-enforced traffic laws
- Ambitious official targets to be set for increases in walking and cycling
The Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013 became law in Wales in 2013. The Act requires local authorities to continuously improve facilities and routes for pedestrians and cyclists and to prepare maps identifying current and potential future routes for their use. It also requires new road schemes (including road improvement) to consider the needs of pedestrians and cyclists at design stage.
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