More than Just Exercise: Walking in Today's Cities

Mondschein, Andrew
August, 2011

Transportation planners, policymakers, urban designers, and activists have expended considerable effort over the past few decades promoting walking as one of several alternatives to driving.  More recently, the public health benefit of a physically active population, including a population that walks more often, has become another reason to encourage walking.  Amongst all of this excitement about walking, there has so far been little exploration of the role walking plays in people’s lives and cities’ welfare.  One little understood aspect of walking is its appeal beyond simple “derived demand” travel choice frameworks.  Though we might intuitively know that people walk for more than just to get from A to B, there’s been little to explain what people gain from walking beyond its potential health benefit.  An investigation of pedestrian behavior using the 2009 National Household Travel Survey suggests that the reasons that people choose to walk vary considerably across place and class, and that walking in urban areas may best be explained by a dual conceptualization of walking as the mode of last resort and a highly-prized urban amenity.  This seemingly self-contradictory dual role suggests that policies that want to encourage walking across a broad swath of the population will need to overcome barriers rooted in everyday lifestyles just as much as in the quality of the built environment.