How ‘NICE’ is advice on road planning?

MAG questions why a health group is venturing into the complex world of road planning – and perhaps missing the point of our roads.
MAG has expressed surprise that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has issued guidance on road planning, even though it has no publicly known experience in highways design and operation. This follows advice from NICE that to keep Britain healthy the roads should be re-prioritised for fitness activity.

Lembit Öpik, MAG’s Director of Communications & Public Affairs, says: ‘NICE says road planning should explicitly prioritise cycling and walking, in preference to private vehicles with engines. They say this will make us healthier by reducing obesity, diabetes and other conditions. Deprioritising powered vehicles in deference to economically insignificant methods of travel, namely unpowered methods, seems unwise. What proportion of us will walk many miles to work, cycle to hospital appointments or pedal to official engagements? It’s just not realistic to think anything more than a small proportion of journeys will be made on foot or by bicycle. This otherwise respected body seems to be offering policy far outside its area of expertise.’

MAG’s Director of Campaigns & Political Engagement, Colin Brown, highlights a further confusion: ‘my analysis indicates that in London, where the policy they propose has been partly implemented with hundreds of millions of Pounds invested in cycle road space, motorcycle accidents have gone up. We predicted this would happen – a direct result of restricted road space for powered vehicles caused by the prioritisation to protect cyclists, even at the cost of other road users’ welfare. How can NICE defend steps which damage the health of other road users to favour cyclists? Considerably more bikers die in London than cyclists. Why is the possible link between these deaths and infrastructure changes to favour cycling being ignored?

‘There’s a principle too,’ continues Colin. ‘Transport’s key mission is to move people and freight, not to improve public health.  As a secondary benefit, that’s fine, but we can’t let it undermine the primary purpose of the road network. There are many ways to get healthy, but without powered road transport we can’t effectively convey people and goods around the country. Anyone is free to cycle or go jogging in a park. But we utilise motorcycles, cars and HGVs – in other words, we use roads – for a main purpose that’s nothing to do with health. Push bikes as a mode of transport deserve consideration; but as ‘get fit’ devices they deserve no particular priority on the highway because that’s not what we built roads for. It’s not right to redeploy highways for health at the cost of mainstream traffic.’

MAG asks NICE to show why they want to compromise the transport system, with health harms to other road users which the pro-cycling policy causes, or to rethink this policy.

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