A healthier way to travel? Health expert believes breaking dependency on cars will improve Canberra's health.

A healthier way to travel? Health expert believes breaking dependency on cars will improve Canberra's health. Photo: Graham Tidy

Better urban planning would improve Canberrans' health, according to leading experts at the second Active Living forum yesterday.

The idea of a ''biophilic'' city design, which would move the city from car dependence, is being championed by the ACT Heart Foundation as another way to encourage locals to be active.

More than half of the territory's residents are overweight or obese and environment and sustainability expert Darren Bilsborough said prioritising public transport would have massive economic and health benefits.

The costs of obesity are growing and in 2008, the annual cost of being overweight in Australia, including health system costs, productivity declines and carers' costs, was estimated at about $58 billion.

The adjunct professor from Curtin University said his research showed people who commuted more than one hour to work each way experienced negative heath impacts, including depression and weight gain.

The solution was to rip up roads and use that space for trams and additional housing in city centres.

''You can have 240 people getting to work in 177 cars, or three buses, for that same amount of people on one tram,'' Professor Bilsborough said.

''When you get rid of cars, you need fewer roads and you can use that space for other things … There are lots of roads and lots of concrete and that's where [Canberra] falls over. The real issue is getting more people more active more quickly and to do that you need to get more cars off the road and get more public transport working,'' he said.

Professor Bilsborough said the ACT government should allocate priority bus lanes throughout the city.

''There has to be less preference to cars. You go to places like New York and London and it's very difficult to get around in a car; the preferential use is public transport,'' he said. Heart Foundation ACT chief executive Tony Stubbs said the ACT government's Transport for Canberra Strategy made the link between public transport and health.

It sets targets of 15-minute bus frequency on the territory's arterial roads and 30-minute public transport services within a 5-10 minute walk of every resident by 2021. Also, by 2016 the ACT government wants almost a quarter of all journeys to and from work to be on bike, foot or its upgraded public transport system - bus, tram or light rail.

Mr Stubbs said it was achievable if the government set aside funding in the June budget and to ''build physical activity into our days''.