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Why shifting to green and healthy transport modes delivers vast rewards for cities



Prioritising the movement of people using sustainable transport modes, rather than cars, delivers vast benefits for the health of citizens and the prosperity of cities. It is also essential for reducing city greenhouse gas emissions. This is why.

Transport emissions are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution in cities

    Emissions sources vary from city to city, but transport – and particularly on-road vehicle transport – accounts for a large portion of greenhouse gas emissions in the vast majority of cases. In New York, 23% of emissions are from transport; in Mexico City, the figure is 45%; and across C40 cities, transport accounts for an average of 30% of cities’ emissions.1

    Around the world, outdoor air pollution kills around 4.6 million people each year, and many more suffer from serious related conditions such as premature birth, low birth weight and asthma.2 Traffic is the biggest source of urban air pollution, including non-greenhouse gas pollutants. Globally it is responsible for up to a quarter of particulate matter in cities’ air.3

    Tackling transport emissions delivers big rewards for city economies, health and communities

    Cities with fewer and cleaner cars on the road can reap vast rewards. Here’s how:

    Reduced congestion boosts city productivity. Traffic congestion holds back our economies through lost time and productivity. For example, before London’s Congestion Charge zone was introduced in 2002, time lost to congestion cost the city’s economy up to £4 million a week.4 Time spent in traffic in Australia’s eight regional capital cities costs nearly US$ 2.8 billion in lost productivity.5

    More walking and cycling leads to increased footfall for retail businesses. More walkable areas can boost local employment, footfall and retail sales, and increase retail rents as much as 20%.6 In London, for example, investment in walking and cycling in the town centres and high streets across the city have led to a 17% decline in retail vacancies and a 93% increase in footfall. People in London walking, cycling and using public transport are spending 40% more in their local shops each month than car drivers.7

    Active travel leads to less depression, anxiety, stress, obesity and chronic disease.8 Lack of physical activity results in physical and mental health problems, lost productivity, higher rates of absenteeism and higher healthcare costs. It kills more people today than smoking. Shifting people out of cars and into active travel – particularly walking and cycling, but also public transport, which typically leads to more activity – significantly lowers these risks. Fewer cars also means less traffic noise, which can cause sleep disturbance, cognitive impairment in children and cardiovascular disease – in Europe, it is the second biggest environmental problem affecting health, after air pollution.9 10

    On average, private cars are parked for over 95% of the time.11 Car parking is a profoundly inefficient use of valuable space in cities. Cities including New York, London, Paris, Vienna, Boston, Houston and Hong Kong have parking coverage of between 15% and 30%.12 13 Parking spaces push buildings further apart, making it harder to walk and encouraging more driving. It also limits the vibrancy and sense of community in local areas. Cities have a huge opportunity to turn parking into housing, productive uses like shops and office buildings, and for walking, cycling and public transport stations.

    Fewer cars can lead to less crime. When a city street goes ‘car-free’ (for example on weekends), crime has dropped by up to 74%.14

    Cities can take action today

    Transport decisions are within the powers of most cities, and city leaders now have an unprecedented range of mobility options. A future where the majority of citizens travel on foot, by bike or by shared transport is within cities’ grasp. Cities can benefit from the lessons and experience from leading cities around the world.

    Priority actions for cities include:

    • Implement transit-oriented development. These are people-friendly urban planning policies that encourage dense, mixed-use development around transit stations to encourage public transport use, walking and cycling.
    • Build infrastructure and implement schemes to increase the rates of walking, cycling, and public and shared transport use for all citizens.
    • Build electric vehicle charging infrastructure and incentivize the uptake of electric vehicles to transition the vehicles left on the roads away from fossil fuels.
    • Collaborate with suppliers, fleet operators and businesses to accelerate the shift to zero emissions vehicles and reduce fleet vehicle miles. Lead by example by procuring zero emission vehicles for city fleets as quickly as possible.

    To get started, view transport data for your city in our Transport Data Explorer, and read here about impactful actions that cities can take to reduce transport emissions.

    The C40 Green and Healthy Streets Declaration

    Signatory cities to the C40 Green and Healthy Streets (Fossil Fuel Free Streets) declaration have committed, as priority actions, to:

    • Procuring, with our partners, only zero-emission buses from 2025.
    • Ensuring that a major area of our city is zero emission by 2030.

    These priority actions can also be adopted by non-signatory cities around the world as impactful, ambitious steps toward streets free of transport emissions. Read here for details of the actions planned by signatory cities to deliver these commitments.


    [1] C40 and ARUP (2019) Deadline 2020: How cities will get the job done.
    [2] CCAC secretariat (2018) World Health Organisation releases new air pollution data.
    [3] Karagulian et al (2015) Contributions to cities’ ambient particulate matter (PM): A systematic review of local source contributions at global level In Atmospheric Environment Vol 120, pp.475-483.
    [4] Transport for London (no date) Congestion Charge.
    [5] Designed to move (2015) A Guide for city leaders: Designed to move active cities.
    [6] Designed to move (2015) A Guide for city leaders: Designed to move active cities.
    [7] Transport for London (2018) Economic benefits of walking and cycling. Webpage. Available at: [Accessed 5 March 2019].
    [8] Designed to move (2015) A Guide for city leaders: Designed to move active cities.
    [9] There was an average noise reduction of three decibels on main roads during the first car-free day in Paris. In addition, noise exposure in the UK causes a loss of healthy life valued at €1.34 billion. Consistent day-time exposure over recommended noise levels has an impact on health, including high blood pressure, stroke, dementia and heart disease. C40 (2018) Benefits of climate action: Piloting A Global Approach To Measurement.
    [10] WHO (2011) Burden of disease from environmental noise: Quantification of healthy life years lost in Europe.
    [11] Shoup D. (2011) The high cost of free parking. Book: revised edition. American planning Association, Routledge.
    [12] WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff (2016) Making Better Places: Autonomous vehicles and future opportunities.
    [13] Old Urbanist (2011) We Are the 25%: Looking at Street Area Percentages and Surface Parking.
    [14] Designed to move (2015) A Guide for city leaders: Designed to move active cities.
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