Julian Sanchez and Esther Anaya report from London where the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games were the catalyst to creating greater links between the health of its citizens and its transport network.
East London is changing, the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games were a catalyst but change doesn’t stop there. With London’s population expected to rise to 10 million by 2030, the ‘East End’, which includes the Borough of Newham, is planned to accommodate around 40 per cent of London’s growth, so planning ahead to create attractive, healthy neighbourhoods which are well connected – a place for people to live, work and enjoy – is essential.
In order to help meet this challenge the London Borough of Newham, which was home to the 2012 Olympics, has teamed up with Imperial College London and other European partners as part of a project called PASTA – Physical Activity Through Sustainable Transport Approaches to better understand the link between transport and health. The idea is to find out what encourages people to get on their bikes or walk and how this helps them to get their 15 minutes of recommended physical activity every day by integrating it as part of their daily travel routine.
Introducing – London and the Borough of Newham
London is a growing city, with a thriving economy attracting both huge amounts of investment, jobs and people. After a population lull in the 1980s the city has grown to around 8.5 million today and by 2030 is anticipated to grow to around 10 million. East London will accommodate around 40 per cent of London’s growth, so planning ahead to create attractive, healthy neighbourhoods that are well-connected is essential.
East London is historically the poorest part of the city. Health inequalities have resulted in average life expectancy in East London significantly lower than the more prosperous ‘West End’ by around 15 years. As well as being poorer, East London is ethnically and culturally diverse and is home to many of London’s new communities. The London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games have been a catalyst for change and urban renewal, refocusing regeneration beyond the swanky docklands to the wider East End with a focus on transport hubs, and helping to celebrate the diversity and dynamism of this great part of London.
The way that London is governed has undergone big changes in recent times. The Greater London Council which was responsible for city-wide planning, transport and a range of other services was abolished in 1986 in a move towards a more centralised bureaucracy in the United Kingdom. However, this approach was not considered an effective way of coordinating and managing cross-boundary issues for the 32 London councils or boroughs. Therefore, in 1999 Parliament legislated for the creation of a new London-wide authority, the Greater London Authority (GLA) that provides the main strategic orientation for the boroughs (through the London Plan) and has a directly elected Mayor.
Shaping change – towards a healthy urban landscape and promoting physical activity as part of the Olympic legacy
Transport infrastructure and congestion pumping out pollution have long been an issue for London costing the local economy millions and creating an unhealthy environment for its citizens. Under the first Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, who was elected in 2000, these issues were made key priorities. As former leader of the Greater London Council, Livingstone had an excellent understanding of the challenges the city faced and the need for huge investment. In response to these challenges, the Mayor introduced a number of measures including: the Congestion Charging scheme, modernising the bus fleet and payment system – resulting in the biggest rise in bus passengers since the 1950s – and instigating a modernisation programme of London’s subway system, colloquially referred to as the tube.
The Olympic Games 2012, which was secured under Livingstone in 2005, gave a unique opportunity for urban renewal and became the focus of his replacement, Boris Johnson who took his seat as Mayor in 2008. The new Mayor set out to develop a plan which looked at how the city could accommodate at least another million residents. The plan determined that around 40 per cent of London’s growth could be accommodated in East London, including the Borough of Newham, through a process of densification and urban regeneration of previously derelict or degraded Brownfield land that had been left undeveloped for years – a testament to the difficulty of the task.
The Olympic project tackled the challenges by offering an opportunity to redress the industrial decline of the area and a means for central government to invest a large amount of public money in a focussed and relatively short timescale, which would otherwise have not been achievable under existing regeneration policy. It is often said the Olympics delivered 30 years of regeneration in 10 years, with the net result that Newham no longer features in the top 20 most deprived local authority areas in the country as was the case before the Games as recently as 2010. The challenge now is to link the surrounding neighbourhoods with the site and fulfil the Olympics’ sustainable legacy, which includes promoting a more active and healthier environment for local citizens.
In focus – Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park was re-opened for public use in April 2014 and was hailed as a as one of London 2012’s most visible achievements. The park is situated near to a major transport hub at Stratford and was chosen as the main location for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games. In the wake of the Games this once-contaminated industrial land became the largest new urban parkland in Europe for 150 years.
Sustainability and the environment were at the heart of London’s successful bid for the 2012 Games and is a key policy objective for its legacy. The Environmental Sustainability Policy for the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park sets out a vision to: ‘create an environment that encourages more sustainable behaviour, which includes building neighbourhoods that are easy to walk around, encouraging cycling, promoting the use of public transport and reducing polluting emissions to air.’
London 2012 won gold in the Environmental and Sustainability category of the 6th International Sports Event Management awards.
In focus – Mayor’s Cycling Vision
Boris Johnson, who is a keen cyclist, took on the mantle of promoting cycling in London with great enthusiasm and in 2013 published his ‘Vision for Cycling’. The promotion of cycling is seen as a way of both encouraging more sustainable transport and enabling improvements in London’s streets to make them less car dominated. The Vision set out an approach, inspired by measures implemented in the Netherlands and Denmark, which incorporates a mixture of ‘Quietways’ which are non-segregated routes on residential or streets that have low traffic levels and Cycle Superhighways, which are mainly segregated routes for cars and bikes.
Outer London is a mixture of town centres and suburbs which have relatively high levels of car ownership with half of car journeys less than 3km and two thirds of journey are less than 5km. The Mayor and city’s strategic transport authority – Transport for London saw a way of both reviving local economies through public realm improvements and an opportunity to manage demand on the limited road space by encouraging more people to walk and cycle. To maximise this potential they are investing in a three innovative ‘Mini Holland’ schemes which aim to make three outer London town centres more cycle friendly and thereby to increase uptake in active mobility.
The Mayor pledges that over the 10-year programme, a total of £913m (€1.2bn) will be spent on cycling, with the aim to increase the cycling mode share from around 2 per cent to 5 per cent over the period. London is one of the few global cities to see a drop in car journeys, a trend anticipated to continue, with car mode share expected to fall to around 35 per cent.
In focus – Healthy Urban Planning and Olympic Legacy
In 2013, the same year as the publication of the Mayor’s ‘Vision for Cycling’, there was also a change in health policy which resulted in public health responsibilities returning to local authorities, for the first time since the creation of the National Health Service (NHS) in 1948. Policy makers have been given the opportunity to bolster their efforts of healthy urban planning, as London’s boroughs can now consider achieving better public health outcomes such as reducing obesity and the risk of heart disease and stroke by considering these issues more holistically, within the context of developing healthy urban environments.
As part of achieving the behavioural and physical legacy of the Olympic Games, a group of local authorities in East London have been collaborating through a Strategic Regeneration Framework, part of which includes policies to promote active travel as a way of reducing health and social inequalities. Prior to public health being integrated into London’s boroughs, the Olympic provided a catalyst for considering the challenges of promoting active travel within a much broader context of urban renewal and improving the health of Londoners.
Linking in with PASTA – evaluating our measures
Key to the Mayor’s ‘Vision for Cycling’ and broader plans to improve connectivity in East London, three specific or ‘Top’ measures have been selected for evaluation through the PASTA project which will be managed with expertise from the London Borough of Newham and London university Imperial College London (ICL). All three ‘Top Measures’, either pass through or near to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, as well as other small schemes and interventions within the area.
- The Leaway – walking and cycling route
IMAGE (preferably a map)
The Leaway walking and cycling route follows the river Lea connecting the river Thames at Leamouth to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, which had previously been difficult to access by bike or on foot. Moreover, the new route will link to existing and other improved walking and cycling routes in North-East London known as the upper Lea Valley and will provide a continuous North-South route avoiding roads.
- Quietway 6 – non segregated routes on residential or streets with low traffic
This is an East-West route, which runs from Aldgate on the edge of central London through the borough of Newham and beyond to the outer London suburbs. The route will be generally non dedicated and provides as the names suggests a quieter (less traffic) route avoiding main roads across East London neighbourhoods the route will pass through the Park and will link to the edge of central London.
- Extension of Cycle Superhighway 2 – high traffic routes with segregated bike and car lanes
IMAGE – aerial view of the superhighway
Superhighways are cycle routes running between outer and central London. Cycle Superhighway 2 (CS2) runs between Bow and Aldgate seeks to provide new cycle lanes and other dedicated infrastructure so that cyclists can enjoy swift, direct, safer journeys around the city.
How we are evaluating our measures
The core study in the PASTA evaluation process is as a longitudinal web-based survey with a target sample size of 2,000 participants in the London Borough of Newham and in six European cities: Antwerp, Barcelona, Orebro, Rome, Vienna, and Zurich respectively.
IMAGE – stakeholder engagement with participants
Recruitment of volunteers to complete the travel survey has been a big challenge, as the commitment requested of volunteers is high with the first ‘baseline’ survey taking around 25 minutes to complete and a number of much shorter follow-up surveys. The London Borough of Newham and ICL have been working closely with local stakeholders to recruit volunteers as well as placing advertisements in local publications, using the Council’s billboards and extensive use of social media. All volunteers will be invited to a final event in the Queen Elizabeth Park to celebrate the completion of the study and share with them the results.
Furthermore, in three of the cities (London, Antwerp and Barcelona) a health ‘add-on’ module is being undertaken in which the research team collects data of air pollution exposure.
Linking in with PASTA – creating a community dedicated to transport & health
Bringing together local transport and health practitioners based in London and academic experts for feedback and discussion, has been key to the evaluation of the top measures, but also an opportunity to share. An interesting aspect that came out during the interviews was not only to look at the measures themselves but to find out about how different city departments in charge of health, urban planning and transport have cooperated in pushing forward the health agenda as part of the transport agenda and vice versa.
Given the London context of changing governance, a fast-changing policy context and opportunities for new ways of working and better synergies between local partners, the results of the study will be instructive and will contribute towards the evidence base and supporting business cases for new schemes.
Linking in with PASTA – cities and towns sharing experiences in promoting health
European cities face many challenges, including managing demand for limited road space, and improving the health and wellbeing of their populations. Local, national and EU levels of governance need to work together inter-departmentally and through projects like PASTA to identify the policies which generate the highest and most positive impact in changing behaviour in moving away from cars towards choosing active and sustainable modes of transport such as walking and cycling.
An important political step in promoting cycling at the EU level was achieved at the beginning of October 2015 at the Meeting of the EU Transport Ministers which adopted a declaration on cycling as a “climate friendly” transport mode and called for an improvement in European policy on cycling and to raise awareness among the European population.
By bridging the gap between policy and science, PASTA aims through evaluation of measures and case study research to produce a series of policy recommendations to help guide policy makers in designing active mobility policies to achieve behavioural change. In addition, the project will be developing an updated version of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Health and Economic Assessment tool (HEAT)* which is currently in use by many local authorities. Since the launch in 2009 HEAT is estimated to have prevented up 100,000 premature deaths and remains a key tool for urban planners, transport and health practitioners to make the case for new investment in active mobility.
“Building the liveable and healthy city” conference, 18 November 2015 in BrusselsIf you’re interested in finding out more about the PASTA project, hearing case studies from other cities and networking with a community of professionals committed to developing a healthier city through walking and cycling, we will be hosting a workshop Building the liveable and healthy city at the upcoming Polis Annual Conference on 18 November in Brussels.
To find out more, please visit: www.pastaproject.eu
Sharing your good examples
If you are a European towns and cities which has a good example of initiatives which have promoted walking and cycling for a healthier lifestyle, feel free to contact the PASTA project at: www.pastaproject.eu/friends
Julian Sanchez is Policy Lead, PASTA London
Esther Anaya is a doctoral researcher at the Centre for Environmental Policy, Imperial College London
For more information contact
Helen Franzen, ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability