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Physical and mental health of urban dwellers could be significantly improved by rethinking transport design

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Taking a new approach to designing city streets and other transport infrastructure could make a significant impact on improving public physical and mental health, a report by Arup, BRE, University College London and AREA Research has shown.

The study, Health + Mobility: A design protocol for mobilising healthy living, provides civic leaders, city planners and architects with a guidance protocol that can be applied in any urban setting. This is aimed at helping cities identify the health issues that can be influenced by taking a more holistic approach to transport design.

The research team of public health specialists and built environment professionals found something as simple as the design of streets, pathways and networks could have a significant impact on encourage walking, cycling and other physical activities.

The Liverpool Knowledge Quarter in the UK and the Baton Rouge Health District in the US were chosen to test the transport design protocol in a real life setting.  It’s application to the Liverpool site  highlighted a range of measures that could be implemented to improve underlying health issues in the area. This included reducing the amount of wide and busy roads through to efficient transport planning and road layout changes and creating more attractive pedestrian and cycling networks. These changes could facilitate better street life, improve air quality and encourage people to be more physically active. Through these proposed interventions the Liverpool Knowledge Quarter has the potential to help the wider city of Liverpool move towards a healthier environment.

The report’s guidance comes as the NHS is placing increasing emphasis on wellbeing and prevention to help relieve pressure on its services. The numbers of people suffering chronic diseases, such as stroke, asthma and diabetes, are increasing, posing significant cost burdens on the NHS. The cost of treating diabetes-related conditions alone in the UK was £10 billion in 2011-2012.

Helen Pineo, associate director for cities at BRE and one of the authors of the guidance, said: “The challenges are so great that they cannot be resolved by health services alone. Planners and designers all have a part to play in promoting health and wellbeing in our cities, and this protocol gives them the tools to create healthier places, without requiring a knowledge of the specialist language of the health sector.”

Other project partners said:

Paul Grover, associate director at Arup and contributor to the research said: “What is really unique about this research is the coming together of healthcare experts and built environment specialists to find practical measures that will help reduce preventable diseases and improve mental health. Often health measures are focused on an individual but there are measures that cities can implement to promote and support health and wellbeing.”

Lydia Collis, Associate at Perkins+Will and affiliate of AREA Research, said “With this framework, our goal is to help decision makers solve practical issues and enable them to move towards more health-supportive environments. It has been proven that the design of our cities can have a significant impact on our way of life and our health, which needs to be considered when planning the built environment, including infrastructure and transportation. With rapidly increasing rates of preventable diseases such as obesity and diabetes, the conversation is now more important than ever and we hope that this report sparks a change in how we approach these issues in order to help keep people healthy.”

Professor Nick Tyler from University College London Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering’s Centre for Transport Studies said “The way we move around the built environment can affect our health in a variety of ways – physically, sensorially and psychologically. By designing the environment to give positive health outcomes we can make a huge difference to people’s quality of life and healthcare needs.

The report, Health + Mobility: A design protocol for mobilising healthy living, is available now and is free to download here.

For further information please contact Linda McKeown, BRE, email [email protected]

Notes to Editors

Key statistics

  • Air pollution is contributing to approximately 40,000 early deaths a year in the UK, according to the Royal Colleges of Physicians and of Paediatrics and Child Health.
  • In Europe, the World Health Organisation estimates that around 500,000 people die early, as a result of air pollution
  • In Great Britain last year 1,732 people died in road accidents, and 140,086 people suffered personal injuries, according to government statistics
  • Globally, it is calculated that 3.7 million people could die prematurely every year as a result of air pollution, according to the World Health Organisation
  • It is calculated that road accidents are resulting in the deaths of 1.3 million people and injuries to 78.2 million more, every year, according to a World Bank report
  • In the UK 62% of adults are classed as overweight or obese, and nearly 4 million suffer from diabetes. The cost of treating diabetes-related conditions is circa £10 billion
  • 9% of premature deaths worldwide can be attributed to inadequate physical activity, according to a study published in The Lancet in 2012
  • The transport sector is a major contributor to climate change, being responsible for 23% of global carbon emissions, according to information provided to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

About the report partners

This protocol was developed through Arup’s Global Research Challenge 2015, an annual research investment that aims to nurture open innovation around prioritised topics through collaborations between academia, industry and Arup’s own employees.


Arup is a global firm of designers, engineers, planners and business consultants providing a diverse range of professional services to clients around the world. Arup is renowned for its specialist expertise in multiple disciplines encompassing all aspects of the built environment.


BRE is an independent and impartial, research-based consultancy, testing and training organisation, offering expertise in every aspect of the built environment and associated industries.


University College London is one of the world’s top ten universities. The Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering (CEGE) leads research programmes that seek to optimise built environments for health.

AREA Research

Area Research is an independent, non-profit organisation operating parallel to global architecture and design firm Perkins+Will. The platform connects design professions, academia and research institutions.