Press Story

  • Just 2 per cent of total transport budget is spent on infrastructure to support active travel, IPPR finds
  • Less than one in five people walk, wheel or cycle every day, compared to more than one in four across Europe
  • London gets £24 per head of investment in active travel, compared to £10 per head in the rest of England
  • £35 per head per year for a decade is needed to deliver walking, wheeling and cycling infrastructure

Chronic underfunding of active travel across England is undermining efforts to get people walking, wheeling and cycling, instead of driving, according to a new report from IPPR. This failure has locked in more congestion and contributed to worsening air quality, making it harder to reduce emissions while also stifling local growth, the report says.

The UK lags behind its European counterparts, with fewer than one in five people walking, wheeling or cycling on an average day compared to more than one in four across Europe.

Disparities in active travel spending have also led to an investment gap equivalent to £2.3bn between London and the rest of England over a five-year period. London spent the equivalent of £24 per head per year between 2016 and 2021, while the rest of the country spent the equivalent of only £10 per head, the IPPR report finds.

However, even London’s spend on active travel is far below what is needed, IPPR says. Investment in active travel has historically been low across all of England, accounting for just 2 per cent of the total transport spend, leading to some of the lowest walking, wheeling and cycling rates in Europe.

Spending on active travel in England pales in comparison to the amounts spent on roads. In the 2016 to 2021 period, an average of £148 per person per year was spent on roads, over 10 times the amount spent on facilitating active travel across the country.

Funding for active travel schemes faces an uncertain future. Recently, the already low level of dedicated funding was cut by £233 million and the rhetoric surrounding the government’s new “plan for drivers” has clearly signalled that promoting active travel is no longer considered the priority it once was.

The report makes the case that investing in active travel to increase journeys made by walking, wheeling and cycling has health, climate and wellbeing benefits and also offers a way to create green jobs, boost the economy and deliver safer streets.

  • Shifting short journeys from cars to active travel would save the NHS £17 billion over 20 years through improved health and wellbeing
  • For every £1 spent on active travel infrastructure, there is an average return on investment of £5.62, compared to just £2.50 for roads
  • Doubling cycling and increasing walking as alternatives to car transport would prevent 8,300 premature deaths and save £567 million per year though improved air quality
  • Reducing car miles by 25 per cent, a requirement for meeting the UK’s 2030 climate commitments, relies on cycling levels increasing by at least 20 per cent within the decade.

In order to gain the economic, health and environmental benefits of active travel, IPPR is proposing a new funding settlement:

  • Investing £35 per person per year for a decade on active travel infrastructure, including delivering at least 25,000 miles of protected cycle paths
  • Investing a further £15 per person per year for a decade on interventions to change behaviour, such as training for cyclists, incentives to increase access to bicycles, and loans of e-bikes
  • Active travel funds should be allocated as part of single-pot, long-term funding settlements to local and regional authorities.

Maya Singer Hobbs, senior research fellow at IPPR, said:

“Cycling in the UK peaked 75 years ago. Since then, UK government policy has locked in car dependency, making people walk wary and cycle cautious, at the expense of our health, our environment and our economy.

“Investment in active travel infrastructure to get more people walking and wheeling is crucial to cutting emissions and improving growth.”

Stephen Frost, principal research fellow at IPPR, said:

“This research reveals what could be achieved if all the warm words from government about the value of walking, wheeling and cycling were matched with investment. Diverting just a small percentage of the billions invested by the government in car travel could make our streets safer for everyone travelling under their own steam.

“Children could move around more freely, we’d all have better access to green space and nature, people would be healthier and less isolated and local high streets could be thriving. All this while also moving us closer to achieving the UK’s legally-binding climate commitments. Active travel is among the safest investments in transport - a future UK government must put its money in the right place.”


Maya Singer Hobbs, the report’s lead author, is available for interview


David Wastell, Director of News and Communications: 07921 403651

Liam Evans, Senior Digital and Media Officer: 07419 365334


  1. The IPPR paper, Stride and Ride: England's path from laggard to leader in walking, wheeling and cycling by Maya Singer Hobbs and Stephen Frost, will be published at 0001 on Tuesday February 6. It will be available for download at:
  2. The report uses the term ‘wheeling’ to capture the diversity of people and uses included in official UK national statistics for walking – non-motorised wheelchairs, prams or pushchairs, toy pedal cycles, roller skates, skateboards and non-motorised scooters.
  3. IPPR (the Institute for Public Policy Research) is an independent charity working towards a fairer, greener, and more prosperous society. We are researchers, communicators, and policy experts creating tangible progressive change, and turning bold ideas into common sense realities. Working across the UK, IPPR, IPPR North, and IPPR Scotland are deeply connected to the people of our nations and regions, and the issues our communities face. We have helped shape national conversations and progressive policy change for more than 30 years. From making the early case for the minimum wage and tackling regional inequality, to proposing a windfall tax on energy companies, IPPR’s research and policy work has put forward practical solutions for the crises facing society.