The places where we live are important to our health and wellbeing. Changing how road space is used has an important part to play in people’s quality of life.

The Public Health and Sustainable Partnership group, hosted by Public Health Scotland (PHS), carried out a Health Impact Assessment to understand whether people’s health was improved by changing road space for motor vehicles to other uses.

The group found that road space reallocation can make a difference. By reducing overall traffic volume, the adverse health impacts of motor traffic such as air and noise pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions are likely to be reduced. Other health benefits may be realised but are dependent on using the space differently, such as improving the walking, wheeling and cycling infrastructure, providing additional space for people to shop or socialise, or for children to play.

The impact on health inequalities is also clear. Those living in low income communities or who live with chronic health conditions, are more likely to suffer adverse effects of traffic, like air pollution and road traffic collisions. These groups are also less likely to have access to a car. This work highlights the need for realistic and better alternatives to car travel.

Changing how road space is used should be designed by working with local communities to make sure it meets the needs of everyone and maximises the benefits for all. The findings suggest footfall for local businesses is likely to increase and it may take 2-3 years from implementation until communities experience the full benefits.

Ali Macdonald, Organisation Lead for Healthy Active Environments at PHS, said:

“Living in vibrant, healthy and safe communities plays an important role in our health and wellbeing. COVID-19 has shown how important high-quality local neighbourhoods are to everyone’s wellbeing.

"Our work suggests that including road space reallocation in broader transport and community planning is likely to have a positive effect on communities, not least those most likely to experience poorer health outcomes.

"It is our recommendation that road space reallocation continues to be supported in Scotland, that greater investment in public and community transport is required and that reallocated space becomes a community resource".

For more information, read the Health Impact Assessment and Rapid Evidence Review.

Last updated: 06 October 2022