Active sustainable travel

Active travel is travel that requires physical effort, principally walking, cycling and wheeling.

Active travel is an intrinsic part of a sustainable transport system, one that prioritises low carbon transport choices and comprises multiple modes, including walking, cycling, public transport, and bike, wheeling, and car sharing. A sustainable transport system minimises negative social, environmental and climate impacts and relegates private car use to a minority of journeys.

Active and sustainable travel is good for population health and for the environment. Public health leaders and politicians have highlighted the importance of greater investment in sustainable, integrated transport to promote active travel, to create safe, attractive communities, to mitigate further effects of climate change and to reduce air pollution. 

Yet many transport related trends are moving in the wrong direction – car usage continues to rise, cycling levels remain very low, walking and bus use are falling, road traffic and vehicular emissions continue to increase. There is evidence that motorised transport increases inequalities as negative impacts, such as traffic casualties and air pollution, disproportionately affect vulnerable groups such as children and people living in poverty.

On the other hand investment in active travel has been increasing in Scotland, albeit not yet to the level required to achieve a real shift in walking and cycling levels. In Glasgow, there is evidence that investment in safe infrastructure is increasing levels of active travel, the Next Bike hire scheme has been successful and is expanding and there is a new cycling strategy for the city which promises increased investment and the creation of an integrated cycling network over time. 

However, much more needs to be done to encourage more people to walk in the city and a greater focus is needed on public transport.

Our active and sustainable travel research

We have undertaken a lot of research into this topic and our outputs include research reports, event reports, consultation responses and links to blog posts:

What we’ve learned so far - summarises what we have learnt to date from our programme of research on active travel which began in 2007. 

Walking - summarises the importance of walking to health and provides links to relevant reports, briefing papers, seminar presentations and walking data on Understanding Glasgow.

Cycling - looks at the importance of cycling to health and provides links to relevant reports, briefing papers, seminar presentations and cycling data on Understanding Glasgow.

Health impacts of the M74 motorway extension - discusses the recent M74 study

Commuting, COVID and decarbonising transport - Findings summary- focusses on the progress University of Strathclyde, University of Glasgow, City of Glasgow College, Glasgow City Council, and the Scottish Parliament are making in achieving a shift to more active and sustainable travel among staff and students.

Journal articles

Road space reallocation in Scotland: A health impact assessment. 
Douglas M.J, Teuton J, Macdonald A, Whyte B, Davis A.L. Journal of Transport & Health, Volume 30, 2023, 101625, ISSN 2214-1405.

Cycling Trends in Scotland during the Early Phase of the COVID Pandemic
Whyte B, McArthur D, Garnham L and Livingston M. Active Travel Studies. 2022

Quantifying the health and economic benefits of active commuting in Scotland
Baker G, Pillinger R, Kelly P, Whyte B. Journal of Transport and Health. 2021

Making the shift to sustainable transport in Scotland
Davis A and Whyte B. Cities & Health, 2020

Building a bridge, transport infrastructure and population characteristics: explaining active travel into Glasgow 
McCartney G, Whyte B, Livingston M and Crawford F. Transport Policy 2012;21(C):119-125

Editorial – Promotion of cycling and health 
Mutrie N and Crawford F. British Medical Journal 2010;341:c5405

Promoting walking to school: Results of a quasi-experimental trial
McKee R, Mutrie N, Crawford F and Green B. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 2007;61:818-823 doi:10.1136/jech.2006.048181

Special briefings

The potential impact of a 20mph speed limit on urban roads in Scotland. This paper was developed to provide evidence in relation to the forthcoming Scottish Parliament Member’s Bill proposing the introduction of a 20mph limit in urban settings across Scotland.


Walking during the lockdown in Scotland (July 2020)

Cycling through a pandemic (June 2020)

Active travel during a pandemic (May 2020)

Some reflections on active travel in Glasgow (March 2017)

European Mobility Week: How does the GCPH team get to work? (Sept 2015)

Learning from other places - active travel (Sept 2015)

Walking and cycling - they’re worth the risk! (August 2015)

The M74 - a transport connection or public health blockage? (August 2011)

Further information and data

Trends in different modes of travel, vehicle availability, children’s travel to school, cycling and walking trends, and road casualties can be found in the transport domain of the Understanding Glasgow website. 

For further information on this strand of our work, contact Bruce Whyte, Public Health Programme Manager.

Seminars and workshops

Decarbonising transport: case studies workshop (March 2023)
Access more info on the event plus presentations and a workshop report

Transport & Health workshop: Articulating the co-benefits to key stakeholders (October 2019)
Workshop report (PDF)

Creating liveable cities – the role of active and sustainable travel (May 2017)
Access more info on the event plus seminar report and presentations  

Active travel seminar (March 2017)
Access more info on the event plus presentations
Includes new findings on cycling trends in Glasgow published, including analysis of the City’s Cycle Hire Scheme, recommendations from the GCPH synthesis ‘Active travel in Glasgow: what we’ve learned so far’ and a focus on the wider sustainability agenda by Emilia Hanna of Friends of the Earth. 

Glasgow's Healthier Future Forum 16 (March 2015)
Access more info on the event plus the seminar report, which focuses on active travel and physical activity within an urban environment. 

Launch of a study into the views of cyclists and pedestrians on the Kelvingrove-Anderston route (January 2015)
Seminar report (PDF)

Growing the evidence base that cycling is good for health and the economy (May 2013)

Access the seminar report

Active Travel in a Time of Austerity: Can We Turn Crisis Into Opportunity? (Oct 2010)

Seminar report (PDF)