What is it about walking?

Walking is the most basic mode of transportation but why is it that we (meaning Americans) do so little of it?

Tom Vanderbilt is writing a series of articles about walking that appear on slate.com this week. In his first article yesterday he writes about “The Crisis in American Walking.”

“The United States walks the least of any industrialized nation…the average Australian takes 9,695 steps per day (just a few shy of the supposedly ideal “10,000 steps” plateau, …the average Japanese 7,168, and the average Swiss 9,650, the average American manages only 5,117 steps.”

Today he writes about the peculiar habits of the pedestrian in “Sidewalk Science.” Tomorrow and Friday he will explore “What’s Your Walk Score” and “Learning to Walk.”

Some other tidbits to share from the articles so far:

“Why do we walk so comparatively little? The first answer is one that applies virtually everywhere in the modern world: As with many forms of physical activity, walking has been engineered out of existence.”

“Commuting (by any method) accounts for less than 15 percent of all trips. What’s more at stake is so-called “discretionary travel,” the trips to the grocery store, to soccer practice, to the bank, and these are where we logged our greatest increases in driving. “It’s not just about how many people walk to work,” says Bricker. “It’s how many are willing to walk out the front door for any reason.” Where walking has been lost is in these short trips of a mile or less—28 percent of all trips in America—the majority of which are now taken in a car.”

“What Zupan found, then as now, is that people’s desire to avoid exertion is relatively high. ‘To take the most extreme example, when the stairs in the subway are five flights, what’s the percentage of people who will take them?’ The answer: About four percent.”

“We know, among other things, that nearly half of all daily walking ’bouts,’ as researchers dub trips, are 12 steps or fewer. It has been observed that men walk faster than women, and that walking speed is correlated to socioeconomic standing.”

Fascinating exploration of something both very simple and vastly complex.

Jan

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