Nov 16, 2023 - Health

Walking has plummeted across America

Daily walking trips per 100k people in 2022
Data: StreetLight Data; Map: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

There's been a staggering decline in the number of trips Americans take by putting one foot in front of the other, per a new report.

Why it matters: Walking is good for us.

  • That's true both on an individual level (thanks to the many health benefits it confers) and in the big-picture climate change sense (given that it's the OG form of zero-emissions travel).

Driving the news: The number of annual average daily walking trips dropped a whopping 36% in the contiguous U.S. between 2019 and 2022, per a new StreetLight Data report.

  • "In every metro and state that StreetLight analyzed, walking trips declined over the three-year period by at least 20%," per the report.
  • The rate of decline slowed from -16% between 2019 and 2020 and -19% between 2020 and 2021 to -6% between 2021 and 2022. But that's still a significant overall drop, from about 120 million trips in 2019 to fewer than 80 million in 2022.

How it works: StreetLight measures travel behavior based on anonymized data from mobile devices, vehicle GPS systems and more.

  • For this analysis, one "walking trip" is any trip taken by foot that is more than 250 meters — about 820 feet — from start to finish.

Zoom in: New York City ranks highest among the top 50 U.S. metro areas sorted by annual average daily walking trips per capita in 2022, at 390 per 1,000 people — no surprise to anyone who's ever lived there and racked up a few miles of walking every day in the normal course of life.

  • Orlando (350), Las Vegas (320) and San Diego (320) follow.
  • Portland, Oregon; Boise, Idaho; and Ogden, Utah, are all tied for last place, at just 220 trips per 1,000 people.

Bucking the trend: Los Angeles (+19%), San Diego (+14%) and Modesto, California (+13%) all saw an increase in annual average daily walking trips in 2022 compared to the previous year.

  • That's not a shocker, given their often pleasant weather.

The intrigue: "Active transportation" — that is, walking and biking — accounted for just 10% of overall trips in 2022, down from 14% in 2019.

  • Driving, however, is only 4% below 2019 levels — yet another sign that America is a country of car lovers.

Our thought bubble: So much for all that walking people were doing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What they're saying: It's clear that the pandemic had an "obvious impact," StreetLight says. But beyond that, the group isn't sure what's keeping Americans off their feet.

  • Some of this could be remote work, which can make it all too easy to become overly sedentary.
  • And some of it could be part of the downtown recovery story — if a city has fewer restaurants, shops and so on open, there's less reason for locals and visitors to have a walkabout.

The bottom line: "For communities focused on safety, climate, health and equity initiatives, an all-hands-on-deck strategy across safety, transit, land use and more will be needed to increase walking activity," per StreetLight's report.

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