Walking is transportation too

crowded sidewalk
CC BY 2.0 Lloyd Alter/ Crowded London sidewalks

Melissa recently wrote 10 ways to get the most from walking, where she notes, (my emphasis)

Walking is not about gear or clothes or expertise; it’s easy, cheap, and exceedingly kind to the body. Walking for the sake of taking a walk is emotionally as well as physically pleasing; walking for the sake of getting somewhere is cheaper and easier on the planet than driving.

That last point is critically important and yet is so often ignored. No criticism meant to Melissa, but her post sounds like articles about cycling used to sound, before activists and planners started looking at it as transportation instead of recreation, and started demanding a share of the road. Transport for London’s standards say 'Cycling is now mass transport and must be treated as such, but what about walking? According to Colin Pooley of Lancaster University, walking numbers are huge compared to cycling.

According to the UK’s most recent National Travel Survey 22% of all trips are undertaken on foot – and walking continues to be the second-most important form of transport for all journeys after travel by car or van. For short trips of less than a mile, walking is totally dominant accounting for over 78% of all such travel. One third of all trips less than five miles in length are also on foot.

st clair crowdLloyd Alter/ Just a few people on St. Clair but there is no room for them on the sidewalk./CC BY 2.0

Pedestrians do get their own infrastructure now, namely sidewalks, but they are often so crowded and filled with junk that you cannot move. Crossing the street is dangerous and difficult. Pooley writes:

In most locations, road space continues to be dominated by, and planned for, motor vehicles and people on foot are crammed on to pavements that are often too narrow. Pedestrians are made to wait for long periods to cross busy roads, exposed to traffic noise and emissions, and then given insufficient time to cross before the lights change to keep the traffic moving.

He notes that walking isn’t taken seriously as transportation.

Pedestrians suffer from being classed as “walkers” – those who walk for pleasure rather than as a means of transport. The cultural dominance and convenience of the motor vehicle has meant that urban space has been disproportionately allocated towards cars and away from pedestrians. When walking for anything other than recreation is increasingly seen as abnormal, cars will always win.

Toronto urban affairs writer Daren Foster recently visited Los Angeles and noted how weird it was to actually walk to get around.

Walking, as something done during the course of an average day, as an actual mode of getting around, seems out of the ordinary, most likely the result of an unfortunate turn of events. “I’m sorry, miss,” the driver says through a powered down passenger side window, to a passer-by on foot. “Did your car break down? Would you like me to call AAA or a family member? You probably don’t have a phone either, I’m guessing.”

He notes how scary it can be.

I’ve lost count the number of times I’ve hesitated to step into the street, even with the clear right-of-way, uncertain that a vehicle barreling down toward me will stop in time. Walking in the car-dominant streets of this city involves a noticeable degree of uncertainty for pedestrians which might explain why lots of people don’t do it unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Lexington before and after© John Massengale

Yet we just keep making it worse. I am reminded of John Massengale’s comparing Lexington Avenue in New York City, where stoops and stairs were removed and sidewalks narrowed to make more room for the car. How cars have squeezed pedestrians off the streets and made it almost impossible to walk. Yet in America, a lot of people walk for transportation too. According to the pedestrian and bicycle information center,

…about 107.4 million Americans use walking as a regular mode of travel. This translates to approximately 51 percent of the traveling public. On average, these 107.4 million people used walking for transportation (as opposed to for recreation) three days per week….Walking trips also accounted for 4.9 percent of all trips to school and church and 11.4 percent of shopping and service trips.

I noted this in a response to Alex Steffen’s article on self-driving cars, where he thought they would be great for short trips in compact cities. But we already have a great way to do this: Walking.

flaneurJonathan Fertig/ how the modern flaneur dresses for walking/via

This is why I rail against those who try to criminalize walking, dress walkers up in lights and dayglo and generally try to make the experience miserable and walkers people off the streets. It’s transportation. It should be promoted and made as easy, safe and comfortable as possible. Last word back to Colin Pooley:

Walking is a cheap, simple, healthy and environmentally friendly way of travelling short distances. It is something most people enjoy doing, but our cities are built in ways that often make life difficult and unpleasant for pedestrians.

Walking needs to be taken more seriously as a means of transport (and not only as a form of exercise or leisure) – and should be actively planned for and given priority, as is beginning to happen with cycling. If more people walked and fewer people drove, it would not only benefit personal health but also cities would be more pleasant for all.

Tags: Transportation | Walking


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