Bristol featured as the most active city in the UK in a new report, Active Cities – a guide for city leaders. Nine cities around the world were compared and common themes and lessons drawn out. The report, sponsored by Nike, is a useful summary of the issues and evidence and deserves to be widely used. It seems that active cities typically do four things really well. 1) They make physical activity a priority, 2) Use existing resources, 3) Design for people and 4) Create a legacy of lasting change. News article here.

On a related theme UWE is starting a research project called cycle BOOM to understand cycling among the older population and how this affects independence, health and wellbeing. See the press coverage here. The ultimate aim is to advise policy makers and practitioners how our environment and technologies can be designed to help people to continue to cycle in older age or to reconnect with cycling. They are looking for participants in Bristol, Oxford, Reading and Cardiff who are over 50.

Some of the points from the Active Cities report include:

Walking is great for business and so is cycling
Multiple studies have shown that making places better for walking can boost footfall and trading by up to 40 percent and raise retail rents by 20 percent. Projects in the United Kingdom were shown to increase employment and the number of visitors – each by 300 percent. A conservative estimate of the annual economic impact of cycling in one metropolitan area was $60 million. The annual economic impact of cyclists is almost nine times as much as the one-time expenditure of public funds used to construct special bicycle facilities. Among 20 different studies on the economic benefits of walking and bicycling interventions, the average benefit-to-cost ratio was 13:1. Read this interesting article from CityLab collating 12 different reports.

People like their cities more when they have active transport options
Ciclovias (cycling events that close streets to cars for a full day like Bristol’s Biggest Bike Ride) are great community builders. In fact, nearly 9 out of 10 people agree that the events cause them to look more favorably on their city.Public transport options also impact how people feel about their cities. One survey found that half of residents who lack access to mass transit are dissatisfied with the lack of availability.

Walkability and bike ability drastically reduce driving and related pollutants
In one study, a 5 percent increase in walkability was associated with a 6.5 percent decrease in vehicle miles traveled. This equates to a 5.6 percent decrease in emissions of oxides of nitrogen.In a study of a county in the United States, it was determined that the addition of sidewalks to all roadways would lead to a reduction of vehicle miles traveled equal to 183 million miles, resulting in an annual air pollution cost saving of $8 million.

Cycling facilities lower health care costs
A modeling study of Portland, Oregon (USA) estimated that by 2040, investments in bike facilities (costing from $138 to $605 million) will result in health care cost savings of $388 million to $594 million, fuel savings of $143 million to $218 million, and savings in the value of statistical lives of $7 million to $12 billion.

It’s what people want
It turns out that people want to live in cities that are walkable, bikeable and playable. From the surveys and consumer research available, it appears the public is already very much in favor of activity-friendly options. For example:

  • Many people are “mismatched” and do not live in their preferred neighborhood type—specifically, people who do not live in walkable neighborhoods would prefer to.
  • Nine of ten people prefer that more local government funds be devoted to walking/jogging trails, recreation centers and bike paths.
  • If bicycling were made safer from motor vehicle traffic, bicycle riding at least once per week could increase from 8 percent to 40 percent of adults.
  • In the United States, 59 percent of people surveyed support walkable communities.
  • More than half of Americans prefer neighborhoods that are close to shops, have a mix of incomes and provides public transportation.