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BMJ. 2004 Oct 2;329(7469):763. Epub 2004 Sep 22.

Promoting walking and cycling as an alternative to using cars: systematic review.

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  • 1MRC Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8RZ.



To assess what interventions are effective in promoting a population shift from using cars towards walking and cycling and to assess the health effects of such interventions.


Published and unpublished reports in any language identified from electronic databases, bibliographies, websites, and reference lists.


Systematic search and appraisal to identify experimental or observational studies with a prospective or controlled retrospective design that evaluated any intervention applied to an urban population or area by measuring outcomes in members of the local population.


22 studies met the inclusion criteria. We found some evidence that targeted behaviour change programmes can change the behaviour of motivated subgroups, resulting (in the largest study) in a shift of around 5% of all trips at a population level. Single studies of commuter subsidies and a new railway station also showed positive effects. The balance of best available evidence about publicity campaigns, engineering measures, and other interventions suggests that they have not been effective. Participants in trials of active commuting experienced short term improvements in certain measures of health and fitness, but we found no good evidence on effects on health of any effective intervention at population level.


The best available evidence of effectiveness in promoting a modal shift is for targeted behaviour change programmes, but the social distribution of their effects is unclear and some other types of intervention have yet to be rigorously evaluated.

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