Cities with more physically active residents are financially healthier too, a study has found, with benefits being higher property values, economic productivity levels and school performance.
Where walking, cycling and public transport are prevalent, the University of California study has found, there is a return of £13 for every £1 invested in these projects.
Benefits for the cities include more trade for local shops, less traffic congestion and reduced pollution.
Workers are more productive too, taking on average a week less off work per year.
Chad Spoon, from the University of California’s Active Living research unit, said: “A city’s ability to compete depends on an active population. The research is clear on this – it shows how an active city can be a low-cost, high-return investment.”
The paper also suggests opening more parks and open spaces; providing bike lanes and public bike schemes; and helping ensure children live closer to their schools, the Guardian reports.
We recently reported how a study from the same university found that a global shift to public transport, walking and cycling would save more than $100 trillion in cumulative public and private spending, and 1,700 megatons of annual carbon dioxide, a new study has found.
Research also found that around 1.4 million early deaths could be avoided annually by 2050 with effective vehicle pollution controls and ultralow-sulfur fuels.
"Transportation, driven by rapid growth in car use, has been the fastest growing source of CO2 in the world, said Michael Replogle, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP)’s managing director for policy and co-author of the report.
"An affordable but largely overlooked way to cut that pollution is to give people clean options to use public transportation, walking and cycling, expanding mobility options especially for the poor and curbing air pollution from traffic."
The report, A Global High Shift Scenario, calculated CO2 emissions in 2050 with a scenario in which governments significantly increased rail and clean bus transport and infrastructure to ensure safe walking, bicycling and other active forms of transport.
It also modeled moving investment away from roads and parking garages and other factors that encouraged car ownership.
"This timely study is a significant contribution to the evidence base showing that public transport should play central role in visions for the city of tomorrow" says Alain Flausch, Secretary General of the International Association of Public Transport, and member of UN Secretary General's Advisory Group on Sustainable Transport.
One of the countries studied in depth was China, where CO2 emissions from transportation are expected to mushroom from 190 megatons annually to more than 1,100 megatons, due in large part to the explosive growth of China's urban areas, the growing wealth of Chinese consumers, and their dependence on automobiles.
Under modeling by the study however, this increase can be slashed to 650 megatons, so long as cities develop extensive bus and metro systems. China is already sharply increasing investments in public transport, but it is not clear that this will be enough.