17th March, 2020

Researchers call on government to enable safe walking and cycling during the COVID-19 pandemic

As public health and transport researchers we fully support individuals, communities, and governments taking rapid and effective action against the growing pandemic of Covid-19. We recognise the importance of social distancing, with particular need to protect the most vulnerable.

During this, however, all of our existing social and health risks do not simply go away. As the Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty has said we need to consider how decisions taken by the government to combat Covid-19 might harm health in other ways.

At present, walking and cycling make a large contribution to population physical activity. A recent report for Public Health England says “Walking is one of the main contributors to total physical activity across all age groups, contributing between 26-42% of total physical activity, and has been demonstrated to be accessible to large proportions of society in terms of age and gender.” 

In a rapidly escalating situation policy could be adopted that largely confines the general asymptomatic population to their homes, potentially for some time. Confinement, sometimes in overcrowded accommodation with little or no private green space, and particularly during times of anxiety has health risks.

Physical activity reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases, several cancers, dementia, and diabetes. These conditions affect millions of people; and some increase the risk of a serious outcome if one contracts Covid-19. Walking and cycling, particularly in greenspace, is good for mental as well as physical health. People should be encouraged to exercise at home, but for most of us it is unlikely that this will replace the walking and cycling we do outdoors.

Social distancing will make many sports and gym based exercise impossible. However, walking and cycling can be compatible with social distancing, if people are responsible. Transmission risks will be very low if people stay 2-3 metres apart.

For shopping, and for those who still need to commute, walking and cycling should be supported. We see wide variation across Europe in policies towards walking and cycling, with some countries explicitly encouraging cycling and others effectively banning it; and some closing green space to walkers.

Thus we call on decision makers to protect the right to walk and cycle safely (from risk of infection and traffic injury) for those who are not symptomatic.

This should involve ensuring parks and other greenspace are kept or made open (with management if needed to ensure safe behaviour), and emergency infrastructure to make cycling and walking safer for travel to work and shops. Government should publish evidence-based guidance for people walking and cycling on reducing risk, including ensuring social distancing.

Yours sincerely,

Sally Wyke BSc PhD FRCGP (hon) FRSE, Interdisciplinary Professor of Health and Wellbeing, University of Glasgow.

Dr. James Woodcock, Programme lead: Public Health Modelling, Centre for Diet and Activity Research, MRC Epidemiology Unit, University of Cambridge.

Professor Andree Woodcock, Centre for Mobility and Transport, Coventry University.

Dr Peter Wood, the Open University.

Christian Wolmar, writer and broadcaster specialising in transport.

Dr. Jeremy Wight, formerly DPH for Sheffield, emeritus Professor of Public Health at Sheffield University.

Professor John Whitelegg, School of the Built Environment, Liverpool John Moores University.

Christopher White (BSc, MSc), PhD Student & Lecturer in Sociology of Sport, Department of Sport & Exercise Sciences, University of Chester.

Dr Paula Watson, Senior Lecturer in Exercise and Health Psychology, Liverpool John Moore’s University.

Dr. Stephen Watkins, Co-chair, Transport and Health Science Group.

Dr. Helen Walters, Consultant in Public Health Medicine, University of Southampton.

Dr. Ian Walker, University of Bath.

Dr. Jim Uttley, Lecturer in Architectural Science, University of Sheffield.

Nick Tyler CBE FREng, Chadwick Professor of Civil Engineering, Director, UCL Centre for Transport Studies, UCL.

Professor Mark Tully, Professor of Public Health and Director of the Institute of Mental Health Sciences, Ulster University.

Professor Alan Tapp, Professor of Marketing, Bristol Social Marketing Centre, University of the West of England.

Dr. Joey Talbot, Research Fellow, Institute for Transport Studies, University of Leeds

Dr. Caroline Tait, Public Health Specialty Trainee and PhD researcher at University of Leeds.

Dr. Jemima Stockton, Research Associate, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London.

Sue Stirling, Research Associate, Norwich Medical School, University of East Anglia.

Dr. Glenn Stewart, Assistant Director of Public Health, NHS Enfield.

Dr. Ben Spencer, Research Fellow in Healthy Ageing and Built Environment, Oxford Brookes University.

Dr. Lynn Sloman, Founder and Direction, Transport for Quality of Life.

Dr. Graeme Sherriff, Co-Director / Sustainable Housing & Urban Studies Unit (SHUSU), University of Salford.

Ruth Shaw MSc (Cardiovascular Rehabilitation). B.Ed, Active Health Associates Ltd.

Megan Sharkey, Urban Studies Research Scholar, University of Westminster.

Martin Schweiger MD, MPH, MA, MB ChB, DTM&H (Retired Consultant in Communicable Disease Control).

Professor Harry Rutter, Professor of Global Public Health, University of Bath.

Helen Ross, Chair of the Sustainable Development Special Interest Group, Faculty of Public Health.

Dr Alicia Roselló, Research Fellow, Centre for Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Paul Roderick, Professor of Public Health, University of Southampton.

Ian Roberts, Professor of Public Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Dr. Miriam Ricci, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Transport & Society, University of the West of England.

Prof. Nick Reed, Founder, Reed Mobility.

Professor Maggie Rae, President, Faculty of Public Health

Colin G Pooley, Emeritus Professor of Social and Historical Geography, Lancaster Environment Centre and Centre for Mobilities Research (CeMoRe).

John Parkin, CEng FICE FCIHT FCILT, Professor of Transport Engineering, University of the West of England.

Professor Graham Parkhurst, Director, Centre for Transport and Society, Department of Geography and Environmental Management, Faculty of Environment and Technology, University of the West of England.

Associate Professor Susan Parham, Head of Urbanism and Planning, University of Hertfordshire.

Dr. Kate Pangbourne, University Academic Fellow, Institute for Transport Studies, University of Leeds.

Nicolas Palominos, PhD Researcher, The Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, University College London.

Dr. Alexander Nurse, Lecturer in Urban Planning, University of Liverpool.

Dr John Nellthorp, Senior Research Fellow, Economics and Appraisal Group, Institute for Transport Studies, University of Leeds.

Dr. Audrey de Nazelle, Faculty of Natural Sciences, Centre for Environmental Policy, Imperial College London.

Dr. Charles Musselwhite, Associate Professor in Gerontology, Swansea University.

Jennifer Mindell, Professor of Public Health, University College London.

Dr Richard Milne, Senior Lecturer, University of Edinburgh.

Christopher Millett, Professor of Public Health, Imperial College London.

Dr. Steve Melia, Senior Lecturer in Transport and Planning, University of the West of England.

Dr. David McArthur, Senior Lecturer in Transport Studies, University of Glasgow.

Professor Jim McManus, OCDS, CPsychol, FBPsS, CSci, FFPH, Chartered FCIPD, Director of Public Health, Public Health Service, Hertfordshire County Council.

Alistair McCay, Lecturer of Transport Engineering, University of Glasgow.

Professor Greg Marsden, Institute for Transport Studies, University of Leeds.

Professor Bruce Lynn, Emeritus Professor of Physiology, UCL.

Dr. Joe Low, Principal Research Fellow, Marie Curie Palliative Care Research Department, UCL Division of Psychiatry.

Dr Robin Lovelace, Associate Professor in Transport and Big Data, University of Leeds, Institute for Transport Studies.

Dr. Jennifer R Lisle, MSc FFPH FRCP.

Dr. Anne Laybourne, UCL Volunteering Service, UCL Students’ Union, University College London.

Harriet Larrington-Spencer, Doctoral Researcher on healthy cities and lead on Inclusive Cycling UoM, University of Manchester.

Dr. Paul Kelly, Lecturer in Physical Activity for Health, University of Edinburgh.

Professor Eileen Kaner, Director, NIHR Applied Research Collaboration North East & North Cumbria, Chair of Public Health & Primary Care Research, Population Health Sciences Institute, Newcastle University.

Rebecca Jones, Senior Research Associate, Division of Psychiatry, University College London.

Linda Jones, Emeritus Professor of Health, The Open University and County Councillor, Petersfield Division, Cambridge.

Robin Ireland, Director of Research, Health Equalities Group.

Dr. Ruth Hunter, Lecturer in Physical Activity and Public Health, UKCRC Centre of Excellence for Public Health Research, Queen's University Belfast.

Andy Hong, Ph.D., Lead Urban Health Scientist, The George Institute for Global Health, University of Oxford.

Tom Hill, Senior Research Fellow, Institute for Public Policy Research.

Dr. Samantha Hajna, Research Associate, MRC Epidemiology Unit, University of Cambridge.

Dr Tom Haines-Doran, Research Fellow in Transport Systems of Provision, University of Leeds.

Professor Sir Andy Haines, Department of Public Health, Environments and Society and Department of Population Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Judith Green, Professor of Sociology, Wellcome Centre for Cultures & Environments of Health, University of Exeter.

Dr. Linsay Gray PhD MSc BSc(Hons) CStat CSci, Senior Investigator Scientist, MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow.

Anna Le Gouais, PhD Researcher - Population Health Interventions, MRC Epidemiology Unit & Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR), University of Cambridge.

Phil Goodwin, Emeritus Professor of Transport Policy, UCL & UWE

Dr. Anna Goodman, Department of Population Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Dr. Stuart Gillespie, Senior Research Fellow, Poverty, Health and Nutrition Division, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

Dr. Ruth Gelletlie (retired), Formerly Director of Local and Regional Health Protection Services, Health Protection Agency.

Dr. Leandro Garcia, Lecturer, Queen's University Belfast.

Steve Fotios, Professor of Light and Visual Perception, School of Architecture, University of Sheffield.

Jonathan Flower, Research Associate, Centre for Transport and Society, University of the West of England.

Dr Richard Dunning, Lecturer in Planning, University of Liverpool.

Dr. Margaret Douglas, Masters of Public Health Programme Co-Director, University of Edinburgh.

Danny Dorling, Halford Mackinder Professor of Geography, School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford.

Dr Robert Davis, Chair, Road Danger Reduction Forum.

Adrian Davis, Professor of Transport & Health, TRI, Edinburgh Napier University.

Dr. Nicholas Davies, University of Salford, School of the Built Environment.

Dr. Alice Dalton, Senior Research Associate, Norwich Medical School, University of East Anglia.

Diane Crone, PhD, FRSPH, Professor of Exercise and Health, Cardiff Metropolitan University.

Dr. Andy Cope, Director of Insight, Sustrans.

Dr. David Cohen, Consultant Stroke Physician, Northwick Park Hospital.

Dr Sam Clifford, Research Fellow in Machine (Statistical) Learning, Centre for Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Dr. Kiron Chatterjee, Associate Professor in Travel Behaviour, Centre for Transport & Society, UWE

Dr. Nick Cavill, Honorary Research Fellow, University of Bristol.

Ben Cave, Senior Conjoint Fellow, Centre for Health Equity Training Research and Evaluation, University of New South Wales and Visiting Research Fellow, School of Environmental Sciences, University of Liverpool.

Paola Castañeda, DPhil (PhD) student, Transport Studies Unit, University of Oxford.

Miriam Bullock, Specialty Registrar, Public Health, Department of Epidemiology & Public Health, UCL.

Carol Brayne, Professor of Public Health Medicine, Director, Cambridge Institute of Public Health, University of Cambridge

Dr. Julii Brainard, Senior Research Associate, Norwich Medical School, University of East Anglia.

Dr. Soren Brage, Programme Leader: Physical Activity Epidemiology, MRC Epidemiology Unit, University of Cambridge.

Dr. Luke Blazejewski, Research Assistant, University of Salford, School of the Built Environment.

Dr. Ruth Bell, Principal Research Fellow, UCL Institute of Health Equity.

Dr. Suzanne Audrey, Honorary Senior Research Fellow in Public Health, Co-director of SHINE (Supporting Healthy Inclusive Neighbourhood Environments) health integration team, Population Health Sciences, Bristol Medical School

Dr. Rachel Aldred, Reader in Transport and Director of the Active Travel Academy, University of Westminster.

John Adams, Prof. Emeritus, University College London.

Dr. Emma Adams, Senior Research Associate, School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, Loughborough University.

Dr. Ali Abbas, Research Associate/Data Scientist, Public Health Modelling, Centre for Diet and Activity Research, MRC Epidemiology Unit, University of Cambridge.

To add your name: please contact r.aldred@westminster.ac.uk