Cycling: a vital link between transport, health, environment and economy

City of Mannheim/Thomas Tröster

On 19–21 September 2017, Mannheim, Germany, celebrated the 200th anniversary of the country’s invention of the bicycle by hosting the International Cycling Conference (ICC). The event brought together approximately 300 researchers, practitioners and politicians from across the globe to discuss the role of active mobility in the modern world, creating an intersection of academic, political and practical thinking strategies.

Through interactive sessions, presentations, posters, lively discussions and guided study excursions on bicycles, the Conference highlighted the important links between transport planning, health care, environmental quality, economic and business development, and social issues. Under the overarching theme of “Bridging the gap”, the event explored the challenges and opportunities of translating knowledge and experience from research into practice and policy-making – and vice versa.

The German Federal Environment Agency organized the ICC in partnership with the EU-funded Physical Activity through Sustainable Transport Approaches (PASTA) project, the Transport, Health and Environment Pan-European Programme (THE PEP), the City of Mannheim, the European Cyclists Federation, the German Institute of Urban Affairs and the German Society for International Cooperation.

Activities of the PASTA project and THE PEP highlighted

The second day of the Conference had a special focus on discussing the key outcomes of the PASTA project, of which WHO/Europe is a partner. Over the course of 4 years, PASTA engaged a multidisciplinary consortium of leading experts in policy, research and practice from across Europe to work with 7 cities: Antwerp, Belgium; Barcelona, Spain; London, United Kingdom; Örebro, Sweden; Rome, Italy; Vienna, Austria; and Zürich, Switzerland.

The consortium aimed to develop a better understanding of the determinants of active mobility as an innovative approach to integrating physical activity into individuals’ everyday lives. It also aimed to improve the methods and tools used to assess the health impacts of promoting active mobility.

At the Conference, policy-makers from Antwerp, London, Rome and Vienna discussed the relevance of the PASTA results for their cities, and how research can lead to better-informed policy-making in support of active mobility.

The Conference also provided the opportunity to demonstrate the newest version of the WHO Health Economic Assessment Tool (HEAT) for cycling and walking. HEAT is a user-friendly online tool designed to help urban and transport planners, as well as health practitioners, to make the case for new investment in active mobility and quantify the economic value of reduced mortality from active mobility.

Building on the results of research undertaken as part of the PASTA project, HEAT is now also able to quantify the effects of reductions in injuries, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from increased walking and cycling.

On the third day of the Conference, THE PEP, an intersectoral policy platform jointly managed by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and WHO/Europe, held a workshop entitled “Cycling and walking make THE Link – Transport, Health and Environment”. This was the most recent in a series of workshops styled as a relay race. As is customary in THE PEP relay race, the workshop saw the passing of a baton from representatives of one city to another. This time, the city of Vladivostok, Russian Federation – the venue of the previous event – passed the baton to the city of Mannheim.

THE PEP workshops form a series of national events on sustainable transport policies hosted by different cities in the UNECE/WHO European Region. For its leg of the relay, Mannheim chose to focus on the health, environment and economic benefits of walking and cycling.

In a panel discussion focused on “Starter”, “Climber” and “Champion” countries, representatives from Azerbaijan, the Netherlands and Serbia shared their experiences and expertise related to barriers and success factors for cycling promotion.

Additionally, participants learned about the draft pan-European Master Plan for Cycling Promotion, presented for the first time to a broad audience. The Master Plan, which is being developed under the umbrella of THE PEP, will be presented for adoption at the 5th High-level Meeting on Transport, Health and Environment in Vienna, Austria, in 2019.