Congested roads have notable negative health impacts, such as high levels of air pollution, noise and increased injury risk. 1 By influencing people’s preferred modes of travel, transport policies can have a significant positive impact on population health, for example through measures to:

  • reduce motorised traffic
  • reduce air pollution
  • increase active travel (i.e. walking and cycling)
  • improve road safety.

 

Traffic congestion, emissions and noise

The growth in population, housing and employment, both within the local area and in neighbouring boroughs, has obvious implications for transport demand and for congestion on Hackney and the City’s busy transport network.

Poor air quality resulting from vehicle emissions in congested areas is harmful to health. In 2010, an estimated 9,416 deaths in Londoners were attributable to longterm exposure to NO2 (nitrogen dioxide) and PM2.5 (particulate matter 2.5). 2 Local estimates for Hackney suggest that as many as 7% of all deaths in 2014 can be attributed to air pollution – there are high rates of mortality attributable to air pollution across central London. 3 Air pollution can affect lung function, exacerbate asthma and increase cardiovascular and respiratory disease. 4

Traffic can also cause noise pollution, which has a number of health and wellbeing consequences. The most prevalent negative effect of noise is annoyance, but there are a number of other effects including sleep disturbance, hearing impairment, heightened cortisol in the blood (a marker of stress) and, impairment of cognitive performance in children, as well as increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease in those exposed long-term to noise pollution. 5

 

Active travel

Active travel (i.e. by foot or bicycle) can increase the amount of exercise that people are able to integrate into their daily lives. Being more active helps prevent or manage over 20 health conditions and diseases, including coronary heart disease, diabetes, some cancers and obesity. Physical activity is also good for mental wellbeing and can help older people maintain independent lives for longer. 6 Physical activity that can be incorporated into everyday life, such as brisk walking and cycling, has been found to be as effective for weight loss as supervised exercise programmes. 7

Increasing active travel also has related health benefits from lower car use and associated reductions in air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions, a reduction in road danger and noise, and an increase in the number of people out on the streets – making public spaces appear more welcoming and providing opportunities for social
interaction. 8

While there are clear health benefits from cycling, there are also associated risks, including casualties involving motor vehicles (especially heavy goods vehicles) and cyclists. However, as the 2010 joint Department for Transport and Department of Health Active Travel Strategy states, ‘safety risks are outweighed by the health
benefits by a factor of around twenty to one.’ 92010. A recent study confirmed that the health benefits of walking and cycling outweigh the risks from air pollution in London, and makes the point that the health risks from air pollution would be reduced if more people switched from motorised to active travel. 10

 

Road traffic injuries and deaths

Road traffic injuries and deaths are a major (but rare) health impact of local transport systems. As well as being a very real actual risk, it has been found that the fear of road traffic injuries has health impacts of its own. Fear of injury is the main reason people give for not cycling and for parents not wanting their children to be out on
their own, both of which can limit opportunities for physical activity and associated health benefits. 11 As discussed previously, studies have shown that the health benefits of active travel far outweigh the risks.

 

References

  1. Greater London Authority, “Better Environment, Better Health: A GLA guide for
    London’s Boroughs, London Borough of Hackney,” 2013.
  2. H. Walton, D. Dajnak and S. Beevers, “Understanding the Health Impacts of
    Air Pollution in London,” King’s College London, 2015.
  3. Public Health England, “Public Health Outcomes Framework: Indicator 3.01 -Fraction of mortality attributable to particulate air pollution,” [Online]. Available:http://www.phoutcomes.info/public-healthoutcomesframework#page/3/gid/1000043/pat/6/par/E12000007/ati/102/are/E09000012/iid/30101/age/230/sex/4. [Accessed November 2016].
  4. Greater London Authority, “Better Environment, Better Health: A GLA guide for London’s Boroughs, London Borough of Hackney,” 2013.
  5. Ad Hoc Expert Group on Noise and Health, “Environmental Noise and Health in the UK,” Health Protection Agency, 2010.
  6. National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), “Physical activity and the environment (PH8),” 2008.
  7. Public Health England and Local Government Association, “Healthy people,healthy places briefing – Obesity and the environment: increasing physical activity and active travel,” 2013.
  8. Public Health England and Local Government Association, “Healthy people,healthy places briefing – Obesity and the environment: increasing physical activity and active travel,” 2013.
  9. Department for Transport and Department of Health, “Active Travel Strategy,”
  10. M. Tainio, A. J. Nazelle and T. Götschi, “Can air pollution negate the health benefits of cycling and walking?,” Preventive Medicine, vol. 87, p. 233–236, 2016.
  11. Greater London Authority, “Health Impacts of Cars in London,” 2015.