Here’s how cycling has the potential to transform cites and dramatically improve health and wellbeing

On yer bike. Image: Getty.

The UK is becoming more and more sedentary. Physical inactivity currently costs the NHS around £1bn each year; including costs to wider society, this rises to around £7.4bn each year.

The big four causes of preventable ill-health are smoking, drinking alcohol, poor nutrition, and lack of physical activity. Of these, the importance of regular exercise is the least well-known. However, evidence is growing.

A recent report by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, Exercise – the Miracle Cure showed how regular exercise can prevent dementia, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, depression, heart disease and other common serious conditions. Keeping physically active can also reduce the risk of early death by up to 30 per cent. England’s Chief Medical Officer and the UK government recommend adults get 150 minutes of physical activity each week.

In 2015, however, 34 per cent of men and 42 per cent of women reported that they did not meet UK guidelines on physical activity. According to the British Heart Foundation women are 36 per cent more likely to be considered physically inactive than men. While the majority of adults across the UK are aware of the need to exercise and be physically active, we increasingly find adopting these behaviours challenging.

One of the best ways to increase exercise is through changing our everyday travel behaviours – for example, by cycling more. But for too long, cycling has been seen as a fringe activity in UK cities. This is despite the fact that the size and density of most UK cities are perfectly suited for travel by bike. For example, almost three quarters of trips in Greater Manchester between 3km and 5km are driven. These journeys could be ridden by a cycle at a leisurely pace in around 20 minutes.

Despite this, almost all roads in almost every UK city are currently designed to prioritise cars over other forms of transport. This isn’t surprising considering how easy we make it for people to get in a car and hard for people to walk, cycle or use public transport. And this is despite evidence that shows the latter is better for our health, air quality, congestion, climate change and the economy.

So what would the impact be if cities prioritised everyday cycling?


Sustrans’ new report Transforming Cities: The potential of everyday cycling is based on data from Bike Life, the largest assessment of cycling in UK cities, and highlights the impact of doubling cycling trips every eight years between 2017 and 2040. The modelling follows the UK government’s Cycling & Walking Investment Strategy, which seeks to double cycling in England by 2025.

We found an estimated 34,000 incidences of eight life-threatening conditions – including Type 2 diabetes, stroke, breast cancer and depression – would be prevented in seven major cities between 2017 and 2040, if cycling increased at rates like those seen since the millennium in London.

In 2040 and each year thereafter this would equate to over 240 million hours of additional physical activity and the prevention of 628 early deaths. Between 2017 and 2040 cycling could generate £21bnof savings to the economy, including £319m of savings to the NHS.

Cities, including London, Bristol and Cardiff, have shown cycling rates can double over an eight year timeframe. However, we need this to be commonplace in the UK rather than the exception.

The substantial health benefits from increased cycling are only possible if long-term political commitment and investment across government exist at both the city and the national level. Cities will need the courage and conviction to redesign streets and make cycling accessible to everyone. We need to make it easier to cycle than drive in our cities and this means dedicated space for cycling, and making our roads safe enough for a 12-year-old to cycle.

Sustrans, along with other walking and cycling organisations, wants the UK Government to commit 5 per cent of the transport budget on active travel, raising to 10 per cent by 2025 in the next Comprehensive Spending Review. This would amount to £17 per person annually in 2020-21, rising to £34 per person in 2024-25 in England. Similar commitments should then be made in the devolved nations, so as to help cities to invest. As Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester recently said: “We are made to move and now is the time to act on this”.

Tim Burns is senior policy & partnerships advisor at the sustainable transport charity Sustrans.

 
 
 
 

Wild boar are moving back to Genoa, and not everyone is pleased

A wild boar, c1933. Image: Getty.

Crossing the Ponte Gerolamo Serra in the Italian city of Genoa, I spotted a small crowd clustered by the river wall. I approached, intrigued, and peered over the wall to discover the subject of their delight: a sounder of eight wild boars – the adults sheltering from the heat in the undergrowth, while the juveniles foraged among the foliage that grows in the river bed during the dry summer months.

In any other city, such a sight might have been surprising. But in Italy, and particularly in the region of Liguria, where Genoa is located, the population of wild boars has been increasing at such a rapid rate that these incidents are now common. Across the country, it’s estimated that the population has risen from 600,000 to 1m over the past decade.

But while wild boars may look comically out of place trotting about the city, it’s actually a natural result of the way people have migrated – and the wars they have fought – over the course of recent history.

Making a comeback

A species native to Europe, the wild boar (or “cinghiale”, in Italian) largely disappeared from its historical territories during the 18th and 19th centuries. Their decline was widely attributed to the combined effects of habitat change, competition for space and resources and, of course, hunting.

Wild boars were a prized quarry, revered for their ferocity – and the danger involved in pursuing them. According to local folklore from the region of Liguria, the last truly wild boar was hunted and killed in 1814, in the province of Savona.

After an absence of more than a century, wild boar began to return to Liguria, and to the neighbouring region of Piedmont. A further influx occurred during World War I, when it’s believed that military activities in the south-east of France forced parts of the population back into Italy over the Alps.

Although hunting fraternities were quick to augment this fledgling population with wild boars transported from elsewhere, the return of the species was primarily due to natural causes. From the 1950s onwards, traditional agricultural practices were abandoned as more and more people moved from rural towns into the cities. This meant that large areas of formerly cultivated terraces and pastures were rapidly overgrown, fast becoming dense secondary woodlands.

A city gone wild

This spontaneous “rewilding” has become a controversial issue in the region. Many conservationists and environmental organisations consider the region’s return to a “wild state” a success. But others believe that the encroaching wilderness signals a loss of traditional woodland knowledge and a reduction of biodiversity, associated with the pastures and meadows.


The province of Genoa is among the areas most densely populated by wild boar in Italy, with an estimated 25 boar per 10km². Rewilding processes have brought woodlands to the city limits, blurring the boundary between rural and urban areas. The species has expanded beyond the hinterlands, colonising highly urbanised, densely populated city spaces in Genoa, drawn by the abundance of food waste created by humans.

In 2009, the infamous boar Pierino made his home at Righi, on the outskirts of Genoa, where he was routinely fed with focaccia by enthusiasts. Today, a family of wild boar call the Albergo dei Poveri – a historical hostel for the Genoese poor in the city centre – their home.

But while their antics are often recorded and shared with glee on social media, the threats posed by the presence of wild animals has become a preoccupation for the city’s municipal administration.

Boorish behaviour

Wild boar have been involved in a number of traffic accidents, and have proven to be particularly dangerous when with their young, attacking dogs and even people. The city council in Genoa has put forward many proposals to reduce the number of animals in the city, ranging from forced removals, to sterilisation, increased attention to waste disposal and approved hunts. About 90 wild boar were reportedly culled in 2018.

Needless to say, each of these measures has been hotly debated. Animal advocacy groups staunchly oppose the proposals, and sometimes obstruct the authorities’ attempts to take action, often sending patrols to care for the animals, and even give them names. But other residents are displeased with the animals’ presence in the city, and have consulted with the council on how to address the problems that they cause.

And so Genoa continues to grapple with thorny issues surrounding the presence of wild boar in the city, with the city authorities seeking to resolve a polemical issue that embroils the lives of animals and humans alike. So far, a collective, coherent and communally agreeable strategy has proven evasive; one that considers the need for public safety, hygiene and health with the ethical responsibilities towards to wild boar themselves.

Meanwhile, the animals themselves continue to lounge and forage beneath the Ponte Gerolamo Serra and elsewhere, bringing a little of the wilderness into the city.

The Conversation

Robert Hearn, Assistant Professor in Human Geography, University of Nottingham.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.