A new study suggests that Cambridgeshire’s five-year-old guided busway is encouraging more cycling. The health study by the Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge is published today in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
The guided busway, commissioned by Cambridgeshire County Council and opened in 2011 after much controversy, is a dedicated track that excludes other motorised vehicles, allowing high-speed buses to keep to their schedules even during rush hours. It runs from St Ives into Cambridge and out to Trumpington via the Biomedical Campus. The busway has a traffic-free cycleway for pedestrians and cyclists running beside it.
Researchers followed 469 commuters over time and assessed changes in their activity patterns before and after the opening of the busway. The latest results show that people living closer to the busway were more likely to increase the time they spent cycling on the commute than those living further away. These results follow others published earlier this year, in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, which showed a reduction in car use on the commute attributable to the busway. Interviews showed how commuters found the guided bus service convenient and accessible and appreciated the new traffic-free path.
It was found that the largest effect on physical activity on the journey to work was seen in those commuters who were least active before the busway opened. This suggests that the busway is shiftin activity patterns in the population at large, rather than just encouraging those who are already active to do a little more. The study found no evidence that people taking up more active commuting compensated by reducing their leisure-time physical activities.
Lead researcher Dr Jenna Panter, of Cambridge University’s Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit, said: “These findings provide new evidence to support changes to our transport systems as part of a public health strategy to support a more active way of life. People might naturally think of cycle lanes as part of these changes – but this research suggests that we need to look at the wider infrastructure as well.”
Dr David Ogilvie, the principal investigator who led the overall study, also of the MRC Epidemiology Unit, added: “Although redesigning our towns and cities in this way may seem an obvious thing to do, the health benefits of doing this have rarely been tested in practice. Ours is one of the few studies to have done this, and it shows an effect of the busway even after taking account of a range of other factors that influence how people travel to work.”
The study was funded by the National Institute for Health Research and was produced in collaboration with University College London and the University of East Anglia.