London's mayor wants residents to put on their walking boots to boost health

Thomson Reuters Foundation

Londoners were urged to reach for their walking shoes Thursday as the government launched its first action plan to get more people moving around the city on foot.

Mayor Sadiq Khan has said he wants to make the British capital the world’s most walkable city as part of a wider strategy for 80 percent of all trips to be made on foot, bicycle or public transport by 2041.

His office is behind the plan, which seeks to boost health and reduce air pollution in the city of 8.8 million people by making streets more pedestrian friendly.

“Getting more Londoners to walk regularly is essential for the health and future prosperity of our city,” Will Norman, London’s first walking and cycling commissioner, said in a statement.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 92 percent of the world’s population live in places where air pollution levels exceed safe limits.

Nearly 9,500 residents of London die prematurely every year as a result of long-term exposure to air pollution, a 2015 study by researchers at King’s College London showed.

“To reduce this, we need to tackle its biggest source: motor traffic,” said Joe Irvin, chief executive of Living Streets, a British charity that champions walking as a form of transport.

“By making it easier and more attractive to walk, more people will be encouraged to make healthier travel choices.”

The drive to get more Londoners walking is backed by Public Health England, a government body that recommends at least 10 minutes of brisk walking daily to improve health.

It is part of a broader “Healthy Streets” initiative in which Khan has pledged to invest about £2.2 billion ($2.9 billion).

Research by the Greater London Authority has shown that if every Londoner walked or cycled for 20 minutes a day, it will save Britain’s public health service about £1.7 billion in treatment costs over the next 25 years.

This includes thousands fewer people being treated for hip fractures, dementia and depression, according to the research.

The Walking Action Plan comes as London’s population is expected to rise to 10.8 million people by 2041, creating 5 million additional journeys every day, according to Khan’s office.

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