Irish health organisations join #SaferStreets call for space for walking and cycling during and post-COVID 19

The Irish Heart Foundation, The Irish Cancer Society and The Association for Health Promotion Ireland have called for safer space for walking and cycling during and post-COVID 19.

The groups said they are joining #SaferStreets call, which is an initiative of the Irish Pedestrian Network and cycling campaign umbrella group Cyclist.ie.

In an email sent to TDs, Tim Collins as the CEO of the Irish Heart Foundation, Averil Power as the CEO of the Irish Cancer Society, and Patricia Heavey of the Association for Health Promotion Ireland, said: “To return post Covid to the dangerous and unsustainable norm of gridlocked streets of vehicles bumper to bumper polluting our air, unsafe cycling routes, and cramped pathways for pedestrians will replace one health crisis with another, restoring a toxic physical environment that promotes physical inactivity, high levels of obesity, increased mental health issues and high levels of air pollution. Implementing the #SaferStreets initiative can help ensure we do not return to this unsustainable status quo.”

It said: “The Irish Cancer Society, Irish Heart Foundation, and the Association for Health Promotion Ireland are calling on local authorities and the government to urgently rectify this by pedestrianising villages and town centres and reallocating road space for people to walk, cycle and exercise in a safe manner. Doing so will facilitate social distancing, promote greater physical activity, improve physical, mental, and environmental health levels, and help instil a culture of active travel and exercise into our society.”

The three health organisation leaders, said: “Research from Sport Ireland indicates that more adults are walking and exercising as a result of the lockdown measures1 and while this is to be welcomed, it has quickly become apparent that many are finding it difficult to go about their daily commute or stay active whilst also practicing social distancing due to a combination of greater numbers keeping active outdoors and the lack of space dedicated to these pedestrians and cyclists.”

The email outlined how the #SaferStreet initiative proposes that while motor traffic is at reduced levels, streets must be permanently reconfigured to allocate greater space to walking, running, cycling and playing to ensure safe social distancing within communities and improve levels of physical activity.

“Cities and countries globally have taken the lead and reallocated road space to ensure safe social distancing for pedestrians and cyclists. The UK, New Zealand, as well as the cities of Milan and Berlin have implemented programs to expand cycling and walking spaces to protect their citizens and facilitate social distancing. We believe that Ireland must follow suit and permanently reconfigure our cities, towns, and streets to allocate greater space for active travel users, the email said.

They said: “Physical inactivity is a key risk factor for noncommunicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and diabetes. This underlines the major health benefits that the #SaferStreets initiative can deliver in addition to accommodating social distancing. Furthermore, the World Health Organisation has identified physical inactivity as the fourth-highest risk factor for all-cause mortality. Providing greater and safer spaces for people to walk, cycle and exercise will promote physical activity, benefiting public health and reducing the level of mortality and obesity in Ireland.”

The email highlighted that increased exercise is also vitally important for mental health and wellbeing.

The email to TDs said: “Working from home and reduced travel for only those providing valuable essential services has contributed to a significant fall in air pollution levels. With the WHO describing air pollution as the ‘single biggest environmental health risk’ and estimating that it causes 1,510 annual premature deaths in Ireland, promoting active travel by providing safe space can significantly cut and maintain this reduction in air pollution. This is even more pressing given that recent research has linked air pollution to higher Covid-19 deaths.”

The three health leaders added: “With schools closed and more children and adults walking and cycling around their localities, there exists an unrivalled opportunity to transform our physical environment for the benefit of the active user by reallocating road space. Not only will this allow people to continue practice social distancing as we exit the lockdown restrictions in phases, but we can embed a culture of active travel and physical activity into a whole new generation of Irish children and the wider Irish public. Longer-term reconfiguration of our physical environment can capture this behavioural change.“

UPDATE: Updated to include contents of email to politicians.

I am editor of IrishCycle.com and have reported on and commented on cycling in Ireland for over a decade. My background is in journalism -- I have a BA in Journalism from DCU and HDip in Print Journalism from BCFE. I wrote about cycling for national newspapers, and then started CyclingInDublin.com for overflow stories. Later the website was re-branded to reflect a more national focus.

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