UK government to encourage doctors in England to prescribe bikes for patients

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Cyclists travel in a cycle lane along the Embankment in central London on May 16, 2020.

JUSTIN TALLIS | AFP | Getty Images

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has unveiled plans for a “cycling and walking revolution” that, if fully realized, could recalibrate the way people move around towns and cities.

The move comes as authorities attempt to boost public health by capitalizing on people’s renewed interest in travelling by bike and on foot during the coronavirus pandemic.

The plans, which are specifically related to England, are to be funded by £2 billion ($2.58 billion) of “new money” previously announced.

Wide-ranging in their scope, they include initiatives such as: providing cycling training to children and adults if they want it; developing an extensive network of protected bike routes; and creating “low-traffic neighbourhoods.”

In addition, the U.K. government will pilot a project in some areas of “poor health rates” to encourage doctors to prescribe cycling to patients through a bike lending scheme. 

Later today, the government will release 50,000 vouchers worth £50 to enable cyclists in England to repair their bikes and get them back on the road.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, Johnson described cycling and walking as having “a huge role to play in tackling some of the biggest health and environmental challenges that we face.”

Xavier Brice, the CEO of Sustrans, a charity focused on cycling and walking, said the new plans marked “a big step forward” by the government.

“By helping more people to leave the car at home for shorter journeys, this package of measures will cut pollution, tackle the causes of poor health, and improve the safety of our streets,” he added.

The coronavirus pandemic has already had a significant impact on the way people move about towns and cities. Public transport use in the U.K. has fallen dramatically, while some parts of the country have changed their layout to make it easier for people to get around by bike or by walking.

In the U.K. capital, for example, the “Streetspace for London” program has seen sidewalks widened and temporary bike lanes installed.

Tuesday’s announcement follows on from the government releasing details of a new obesity strategy on Monday. This includes plans to ban online and television ads for “unhealthy” food before 9:00 p.m. and the scrapping of buy one get one free offers for foods with high sugar and fat content.

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