Public Health is back on the agenda for the first time in forty years. Developed to fight the impact of deprived living and working conditions on health, it has a new focus caused by the opposite. We’re a society dying from its excesses. Too much to eat, drink and smoke. Too easy to get around without moving an arm or a leg. Too many days spent at desks instead of in fields.
Cycling can’t reverse the effects of all these changes: cycling can’t make you quit smoking. But it can fix just about everything else! Cycling improves mental health. It benefits the body (although you can’t quite eat whatever you want, as my bathroom scales discovered when I started commuting by bicycle!). It’s accessible, low pollution, and it’s now generally recognised that allowing people to use cycling and walking as part of their daily routine is one of the easiest ways of increasing physical activity. Because it’s not physical activity: it’s just travelling to your destination. You don’t have to drive a couple of miles, park, pay the exorbitant fee, get changed in front of strangers, and sweat in a humid cavern until the prescribed twenty minutes have counted down, while staring at a reflected image of your own blotchy face.
Now the government is beginning to catch on. The Health and Social Care act, widely lambasted as a direct attack on the NHS, devolved responsibility for Public Health, and care of the corresponding funding, to Local Authorities, and gave them a new set of duties to protect and improve the public health of citizens. This means that for the first time, Leeds City Council has to care about how what you eat, and drink, and smoke, and how you commute.
At national level, the Department for Transport and Department of Health are cosying up like the pets in the gas advert. Will Transport still love Health tomorrow? Maybe not, but now may be the right time to ask Leeds City Council how it intends to make it easier for us all to get around on two feet, or two wheels. Allowing more vehicles to drive around the city faster surely isn’t the answer we’re all looking for.