Are cars the new Tobacco?

When I first started on this journey of becoming a Cycle Campaigner, I naively considered it to be a simple evidence based approach to developing a better environment for people to get around. The simple fact, by 2030 the UK will be at 35% obesity, up from 27% today, while the Netherlands would be at 8.5% obesity, down from 10% today, makes it obvious that we have a fundamental problem in the way we prioritise space on our roads, yes?

Apparently this is political dogma and it’s pretty obvious, that over the 4+ years I’ve become deeply involved in transport, that most, if not all councillors put the well being of their voting pool before the well being of society at large.

Fat Kids

So what if kids get fat and have breathing issues. I won the election! Hey, you can’t put a protected cycle lane there connecting that school to that community. It removes on street parking and the right for my residents that vote for me to dump their private property on the street is more important to me winning the next election than getting kids cycling to school.

It’s utterly pathetic. Even when councillors make noises about health, it’s about getting people into electric cars, because, y’know, air pollution. We’re at a point where, about 20% of obesity is down to the car. In fact, from a death rate point of view, obesity kills about 6 times more people than air pollution.

Even knowing this, I’ll happily ride the air pollution ticket if it gets us more segregated child safe cycle infrastructure.

But the problem still remains

Politically it is massively expedient to object to a fundamentally changing the road systems to make them healthy and efficient while ignoring the true costs to our society (this graphic doesn’t even try and calculate the cost of obesity):



It’s embarrassing to realise that we have a huge public health crisis built into our road system that elected representatives are ignoring as it really is not a vote winner.

Finally people are waking up.

Thankfully people are beginning to realise that our Politicians, Councillors, and Highways officers have spent decades wrecking our health for political expediency. Why did we end up not delivering X? Oh Councillor Y objected as residents did not like it. Why was cycling not designed in? Officers considered it a “car only” scheme.

Transport is a public health emergency!

Thankfully people are now studying this space and coming to some frightening conclusions. This Thesis: Are Cars The New Tobacco? summarises the problem:

Thesis Abstract


Public health must continually respond to new threats reflecting wider societal changes. Ecological public health recognizes the links between human health and global sustainability. We argue that these links are typified by the harms caused by dependence on private cars. 


We present routine data and literature on the health impacts of private car use; the activities of the ‘car lobby’ and factors underpinning car dependence. We compare these with experience of tobacco. 


Private cars cause significant health harm. The impacts include physical inactivity, obesity, death and injury from crashes, cardiorespiratory disease from air pollution, noise, community severance and climate change. The car lobby resists measures that would restrict car use, using tactics similar to the tobacco industry. Decisions about location and design of neighbourhoods have created environments that reinforce and reflect car dependence. Car ownership and use has greatly increased in recent decades and there is little public support for measures that would reduce this. 


Car dependence is a potent example of an issue that ecological public health should address. The public health community should advocate strongly for effective policies that reduce car use and increase active travel.

Political Backbone

It’s time to move beyond the bullshit that is political dogma and recognise that we’re talking about a public health crisis that has been generations in the making. Where officers and councillors over many many decades have worked to deliver a road space where the car is king as it wins votes. Where car ownership and the storage of private property on our roads is free and a right.

We need real transport choice

Decades of poor 1970s design and political weakness has created roads where the ONLY choice people feel they have is to use the car. Roads should provide good space for walking, cycling, and driving, then, and only then, parking.

Road Capacity not Motorised Traffic Flow

Councillors and Council Officers priority should be to the provision of healthy efficient road systems, not pandering to the needs of their residents to store private property on our roads or maximising the flow of motorised traffic.

Removing on street parking on London Road and replacing with cycle lanes would be the equivalent of installing 7 lanes of motorised traffic and given that 88% of Bath traffic is LOCAL traffic, this would make have major impact on congestion.


Build the world you want not pander to the world you have

What the officers and councillors are doing is phenomenally short sighted and is killing us, yet it wins votes.

“Don’t worry I’ll make sure that proposed cycle route between the school and that estate doesn’t affect your ability to park your car on the road.” should also be understood as

“The health and wellbeing of children and the ability for them to have safe independent travel choices to get to school on their own is irrelevant to me having you vote for me next time.”

25% of the rush hour traffic is the school run. In Bath 5,000 children are dropped off at school. 10,000 residents drive to work IN Bath. A city that can be walked end to end in 70 minutes or, using an electric bike, be cycled in 20 minutes.


We simply cannot continue to ignore the health crisis on our roads. Neither can we ignore the fact councillors can ‘interfere’ with solving this health crisis and officers ‘allow’ this interference. It’s time to recognise that cars are the new Tobacco and the delivery of healthy efficient streets are an overriding legal requirement to create good road networks for walking and 8-80 cycling


  1. A response to an email that somebody asked as to whether this was down to whichever party you are part of. It very much crosses party boundaries:

    “What I’m saying is that the priority of a councillor is to protect their residents wishes. If they want on-street parking they absolutely have to raise that.

    It is then the strategic view of the cabinet member to then override as they see fit.

    So every councillor will fight for more cars. However if it becomes recognised that there is a public health crisis caused by the way we allocate road space and that councillors have contributed to this through their own actions, then we have a chance to make things better but it absolutely starts with councillors and council officers having a duty of care to deliver better, healthier streets where there is a real choice to walk, cycle, or drive.”

  2. Hi all
    In fairness, having cycled a lot in Holland, it is FLAT, was bombed and then designed for bikes as well, and socially they are far less trepidatious than (island-bound?) us…

    • Except that the decision to prioritise cycling in the Netherlands was taken in the 1970s after the Stop de kindermoord campaign. Before then it was very much a car centric country. Even now they have similar car ownership levels as the UK, but have better choices to travel by bike or walk.

      In the 1930s all new roads in the UK had to have a segregated cycle infrastructure and there is campaign to bring them back.

      Hills in Bath will always be a problem, but as many people are finding out, electric bikes solve this and it hasn’t stopped other countries, like Germany, from having high levels of ridership.

      However this is not about blaming any one councillor. This is about recognising that we have to prioritise healthy streets within our political processes that determine the shape of our roads.

      In a similar way that we accept that climate change is happening, there is now an immense body of evidence that indicates that the UK has a health crisis caused by the political processes that have delivered our current road system.

      We need an overarching proposition that we must prioritise the delivery healthy streets that give people aged 8-80, a choice to walk, cycle, or drive and that means prioritisation of road space for segregated cycle infrastructure.

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