Walking, wheeling, and cycling boost to environment and economy

New research from Sustrans and the City of Edinburgh Council.

Every year walking, wheeling and cycling in Edinburgh helps generate more than £186.2 million in economic benefits while saving 38,000 tonnes in greenhouse gas emissions - the equivalent of 49,000 flights from Edinburgh to New York - according to a major new report.

The Walking and Cycling Index, formerly known as Bike Life, is the biggest assessment of walking, wheeling and cycling in cities across the UK and Ireland, carried out by Sustrans. Results from Edinburgh show 66% of residents walk at least five days a week - more than any other mode of transport and above the national average of 50%. Twenty-six per cent of residents cycle at least once a week.

Annually, people choosing to travel by foot, wheel or bike help take up to 150,000 cars off the road and save the NHS more than £8.2 million through the associated health benefits. However, the Walking and Cycling Index also found that 70.7 million journeys up to three miles are still driven in Edinburgh each year.

Most respondents - 78% - said more shops and everyday services close to home would encourage them to walk and wheel more, while the same number supported the creation of more 20-minute neighbourhoods. The Council is in the process of developing a model for a network of 20-minute neighbourhoods across the city, where public transport and active travel are the best options for getting around and streets are designed for people, allowing them to easily access and support their local businesses and services.

Twenty-three per cent of residents currently don’t cycle but would like to and 64% say more physically separated cycle lanes along roads would help them to cycle more, with access to secure cycle storage at or near home (57%) amongst other incentives to cycling. Several major cycling infrastructure projects are already underway or in the pipeline in Edinburgh, including the City Centre West to East Link (CCWEL) and the transformation of George Street. We’ve also rolled out 106 secure cycle parking hangars over the last two years, with a total of 180 hangars to be installed as part of the programme’s initial phase.

Walking and Cycling Index Edinburgh – key statistics

  • Health: Every year walking and cycling prevents 1,252 serious long-term health conditions. The physical activity benefits of walking and cycling prevent 316 and 28 early deaths respectively, valued at £1 billion (walking) and £92.4 million (cycling).
  • Environment: If 80% of the 70.7 million car journeys of up to three miles were walked and cycled it would save approximately 23,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Trips: Every day, 130,000 return walking trips and 16,000 return cycling trips are made by people that could have used a car. If these cars were all in a traffic jam it would tail back 435 miles – equivalent to the distance between Edinburgh and Southampton.
  • Quieter streets: Only 31% of residents think their streets aren’t dominated by vehicles. Sixty-one per cent support low traffic neighbourhoods and 59% said fewer motor vehicles on streets would be better for both walking and cycling.
  • Inequalities: Eighty-one per cent of non-disabled residents think the level of walking safety is good in their local area compared to 69% of disabled residents. Thirty-five per cent of men cycle at least once a week while only 17% of women do.
  • Funding: Half of residents (52%) want to see more government spending on both walking and cycling, and 57% would like more investment in public transport.

Daisy Narayanan, Head of Placemaking and Mobility at the City of Edinburgh Council, said:

As ever, this report provides a fascinating snapshot of people’s walking, wheeling, and cycling habits – and the immense benefits active travel can bring, not only to our own health but the environment, the economy and the quality of life here.

Transport currently accounts for just under a third of Edinburgh’s emissions and it’s clear that there’s an urgent need to aid and encourage more sustainable ways of travelling if we’re to meet our 2030 net zero target. Responses to the Walking and Cycling Index provide an excellent guide for the kind of changes we need to make – people are telling us what we need to do to help them to travel by foot, wheel or bike, particularly for shorter journeys.

Thankfully, there’s already a great deal of work underway to support this. Our strategy for 20-minute neighbourhoods will mean people across Edinburgh can live well locally, meeting most of their daily needs from within their own community. The approach is designed to improve access to services where it is most convenient and helps to support local businesses, creating thriving, vibrant town and local centres.

This is alongside investment of £108 million over the next few years to transform walking, wheeling and cycling infrastructure across the Capital, as outlined in our ambitious City Mobility Plan, including the transformation of George Street, the delivery of CCWEL linking Roseburn to Leith Walk and the Meadows to George Street route.

Dr Sam Gardner, Chair of Edinburgh’s Climate Commission, said:

Improving our streets to encourage more people to choose active ways of travelling is not only an essential part of tackling climate change but will also create a healthier, fairer city.

A planned investment programme is already in place to support a step-change in the city’s cycling network and improve the safety of our streets for those walking and wheeling. It’s crucial that we not only deliver this programme but that we continue to build on its ambition at every opportunity.

Edinburgh is a beautiful, compact and walkable city. We want to make sure all members of society can gain from this, and the Walking and Cycling Index is a key resource to help us to achieve that.

Stewart Carruth, Interim Director, Sustrans Scotland, said:

I’d like to thank the people of Edinburgh who gave us their time to take part in the Walking and Cycling Index. Walking and wheeling should be the most accessible and desirable form of transport. It is of huge importance to people, especially during the current cost of living crisis and the climate emergency.

The evidence is clear – Edinburgh residents want the option to walk and wheel to where they need to get to, and don’t want outdated and unmaintained pavements, crossing points that make walking and wheeling unsafe or inaccessible, and vehicles parked on pavements getting in their way. The City of Edinburgh Council can rest assured that they have the backing of the public to build on the work they have already started to make it easier for people to walk, wheel and cycle to get around.

The Walking and Cycling Index Edinburgh is the fourth report of its kind produced by Sustrans in partnership with the City of Edinburgh Council and draws on local walking and cycling data, modelling and an independent survey of 1,346 residents carried out from June to August 2021, following the lifting of Covid travel restrictions. In total, 9,681 people were surveyed in Scotland.

As well as outlining residents’ walking, wheeling and cycling habits and the associated benefits, the report looks to future developments in the city. These include City Centre Transformation, the extension of 20mph streets and the dropped kerbs programme, following the vision set out in the City Mobility Plan.

Read the full Edinburgh Walking and Cycling Index 2021 report, and the UK Walking and Cycling Index report online.

Published: May 17th 2022