Sunday, March 20, 2005

Walk This Way: Walker Friendly Cities

I love walking. I think it's great. Workin' that shoe leather. Pounding the soles of one's feet. Smiling at fellow passers by. Window shopping, people watching. Gettin' somewhere. That's what walking's all about, so I'm stoked to be living in ... drum roll please ... one of the "Top Ten Best U.S. Walking Cities" as determined by the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA). I know, there's a list or quiz for everything under the sun, but if nothing else, these things amuse so bear with me.

The AMPA says that "walking is one of the nation’s favorite ways to exercise," which I happen to believe is a lie. I love to walk, but I used to live in a place where walking isn't as feasible, which is why it's called The Motor City. People don't really walk there for lots of good reasons as well as some not so good ones. Now I live in a pretty walkable city, and I would have to say that a lot of people have just as many good excuses not to get somewhere on foot. I know people here who will drive up the hill to walk the pooch or will wait upwards of twenty-minutes to catch a bus or train that will take them two or three blocks. I'm not casting aspersions. I've opted for the bus for short distances on a few occasions, and I've chosen to go without supper rather than walk a couple hilly blocks to the store. But by and large, I would say it's a stretch to call walking a favorite activity of most people I know. It's more like sometimes it's the default way of getting from A to Z, and that's okay, I guess. More room on the sidewalk for me. Gotta be careful, though; the APMA claims that "every minute of walking can extend your life by about two minutes." There'll be no living to triple digits here. If I calculate that I'm walking too much I'll take up smoking or do whatever I have to not to be an overachiever in the age category.

200 of the largest U.S. incorporated cities were compared in three categories: healthy lifestyles, modes of transportation to and from work, and involvement in fitness and sport activities with the following results:

1. Arlington, VA: On the cusp of the nation’s capital, it may come as no surprise that 23 percent of the city’s workers use public transportation to get around. Keeping on their feet may be a way of life, since 35 percent of Arlingtonians walk for exercise.

2. San Francisco, CA: Getting to work by foot is not uncommon for this city by the bay with nine percent of residents walking and two percent biking. The walking-conducive city touts 32 percent of its residents walk for exercise and 35 percent buy some type of athletic shoes.

3. Seattle, WA: It’s not too far-fetched to expect a healthy lifestyle from residents living in Seattle. A whopping 35 percent walk for exercise and 36 percent buy some type of athletic shoes.

4. Portland, OR: Residents of this Northwestern city spend a good deal of time on their feet walking their dogs. Close to 22 percent are dog owners.

5. Boston, MA: For many Bostonians, walking to work or using public transportation is a way of life with 45 percent of the population doing one or the other.

6. Washington, DC: Getting around the nation’s capital by subway or bus is preferred by 35 percent of the district’s residents. And when they are not working, 11 percent are playing sports or walking for fitness.

7. New York City, NY: Getting around the Big Apple is easy for New Yorkers with 51 percent of residents using public transportation and 12 percent walking to work.

8. Eugene, OR: Walking is a way of life for 32 percent of residents living in this Oregon city. Whether it’s walking the dog or pushing a stroller, twenty-two percent are dog owners and eight percent own baby strollers.

9. Jersey City, NJ: Public transportation or walking is how 47 percent of the people who work in this gritty town get around. And when they are not working, 12 percent of the residents play sports or exercise once a week.

10. Denver, CO: This versatile city lends itself to those in search of an active lifestyle. Eleven percent of residents walk for fitness or exercise and 12 percent play sports or exercise once a week.

It's kind of a weird list if you ask me. I doubt I would have guessed Jersey City or Arlington for that matter. SF, Denver, and Portland came as no suprise to me. Seeing Seattle on the list made me laugh since I actually got a ticket for jaywalking there. Some of the comments, such as "35 percent buy some type of athletic shoes," are stupid and rather meaningless. Doesn't pretty much everyone own at least one pair of athletic shoes? I also can't imagine any city that has more dogs than San Francisco, but I could be wrong about that. But regardless, I feel blessed to live in a city where I don't have to have a car. And while people complain about the public transportation here, it's really pretty good overall.

That said, it's no exaggeration to say that at least once a day I almost get hit or see another pedestrian nearly get mowed down. It's a big enough problem that were it taken into account, there'd probably be a reshuffling of the list. But as it stands, I'm proud of SF for being number two on the list. It's kinda cool, even if it's bloody dangerous out there.

There's definitely a difference in walking culture from city to city. For example, in Detroit, people will simply walk in front of moving vehicles, and the drivers will swear and mutter, but they'll stop. The pedestrians do it because they know that no driver in his or her right mind is gonna hit them because that would be bad. A hassle, you know? But in San Francisco, drivers will often speed up if a pedestrian is in the roadway because they know the pedestrian is not gonna let herself or himself get hit if it's avoidable. There's the other type of SF driver though—the too-nice driver who will come to a dead stop and wave the pedestrian on as if stopping for baby ducks. Nine times out of ten, it's a really bad thing to do because odds are the angry type of driver will be behind the nice driver, and there's no knowing when the angry driver will snap and decide to zip around the nice driver—just when the pedestrian is in the middle of the road. That's real bad. But sometimes the pedestrians are the culprits. In Chicago, and I've seen it here as well, when there are enough people on foot, there's no mercy for vehicular traffic trying to cross an intersection.

I guess there's never any love lost between people trying to get from place to place. We're not like birds or any other creatures I can think of. It's really strange. Maybe ants. I never had an ant farm so I dunno, but I can see them getting in each other's way like we do. Now I'm just spinning my wheels so I'll leave it at that.


Anonymous John Williams said...

[Originally posted at, 3/21]
One problem with these \"Best Walking Cities\" lists is that
within the cities, there are sizeable good and bad places to walk. Look down below the urban area or city level and the differences become pretty stark. And they suggest what kinds of places make for more walking.

In our town, for instance, suburban Census tracts typically have 1-2% of folks walking or bicycling to work. Other, more urban tracts, have upwards of 20%.

5:54 PM  
Anonymous Eric Berlin said...

[Originally posted at, 3/21]
The problem with San Francisco is that walking at times can
be a better option than driving... even if it means several hours on

5:56 PM  
Anonymous francisco68 said...

After having a \"pacing device\" put in me; I asked the cardiologist \"When can I drive again?\" \"In the United States?\", he replied, laughing. Here in Mexico I do what I like; but, in the US I am a pedestrian. I know Boston, SF, NYC and they are walking/walkers\' cities.
It is part of their great charm. I lived for a while in L.A. and it is illegal to walk there except in Venice. Or almost so. Now I am most often in Miami and it is amazingly pedestrian unfriendly (ever tried crossing 8 lanes of rush hour traffic with a short WALK light after surgery?) Halfway is the limit and take refuge on a traffic island. But, amazingly, Miami has developed a mass transit system of modern buses (put your bike on the front bumper) and elevated, clean, air conditioned trains and elevated bus-like people movers in the Government Center area. See my blog for a recent picture of a station and, soon, one of the trains.
The moral is: There is hope for the worst of the cities. They need a little money, planning, and a desire for a more charming and diverse city.

6:01 PM  
Blogger mpho said...

I agree that there is hope for the worst of the cities, in terms of infrastructure but there also has to be a change in people's desires and expectations. For me, personally, I'd rather spend 40 minutes walking than 20 minutes smashed into other people's arm pits and knobby knees for 20 minutes on the bus. Then again, I'd often rather take the bus then, but only because I live in a city where the bus is a viable option. When I lived in Detroit, both public trans and walking were poor options. Yet when I moved to one of the safer suburbs, I still had the attitude that walking was a chore. I simply wasn't used to it. I have friends in both cities who marvel at the distances I walk, but who have no trouble covering the same distance on a treadmill. So there definitely has to be a change in mindset by city planners but also by the citizenry. Ever since that movie that I refuse to see, people are fond of saying "if you build it, they'll come" but I think for a society that's so hung up on motorized vehicular travel, there has to be more of a push and that includes safe routes, the ability to slow down and not always be rush rush rush, destinations (I'm able to walk so much because most things I need from groceries to laundromat are in walking distance), the desire for exercise, etc.

10:19 PM  
Anonymous HW Saxton said...

Very surprised Chicago didn't rate here
in the top 10. It's a great pedestrian
city.Buses,el trains and a subway. Most
anything you might want or need can be
found within a few blocks in the city.
And the public transport there is even
reliable as well as on time and really

Great public transportation is the way
to go and I like to walk and feel some
sort of connection to my fellow humans
once in a while rather than being in a
car trapped for hours in the traffic day
after day. I live in the desert where
walking isn't even an option.Everything
is too spread out and NOBODY is out on
the streets walking when the temps are
triple digit.

8:48 AM  
Anonymous mpho3 said...

Chicago *is* a great city for walking. The desert?
well, can't have everything : )

8:48 AM  
Blogger Zenslinger said...

Francisco, I don't know what is worse for one's heart, walking across the many lanes with a short light, or standing on the island while the cars whiz by.

True, true about the mindset. I first came of age to travel in Jacksonville, Florida, where if you see someone walking, they are almost always carrying a gas can. My first times riding public transportation were almost creepy experiences, like I had walked into a dystopian near future.

Although Tokyo has a bit of a reputation as a dystopian near future itself, by the time I moved there, I had thought myself acclimated to zooming around in enclosed spaces with people I didn't know on a daily basis. But I had yet to see the pinnacle of public transportation's achievement: children as young as five or six, riding the trains all the way across the city to school every morning. Wow.

11:42 AM  
Anonymous Alienboy said...

posted on on March 24, 2005 08:27 AM:
Europe is a great place for walking too - and most of us are unarmed and friendly - come on over...

9:12 PM  
Anonymous SFC Ski said...

posted on on March 24, 2005 10:07 AM:
Not only is Europe great for walking, the drivers are aware of cyclists and their right to be on the road, and the bike paths often are quicker than driving.

9:13 PM  
Blogger mpho said...

Not all of Europe, of course. Walking on the narrow and uneven cobblestones of Paris was fun; dodging the loads of dog crap every few steps wasn't. And it's tough to cross the street in London if you're a dyslexic American. But by and large, I know what you mean. The city and town planners take know the true meaning of community and go out of their way to instill it in the construct of the physical space; and older, more historical spaces simply sprang up that way. We miss out on that in most places in the U.S. because we're constantly tearing things down to make way for business enterprises, not people.

9:14 PM  
Anonymous nellie reyes said...

I'm living in arlington, tx. and I love it. the weather is nice, the people are friendly, but it's a shame, not too many people walk. I come from n.y. and everybody walks and thats what I miss most about
n.y.c. I was not on a weight losing diet and I was much thinner.

3:27 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home