Breaking: Walking Is Good For You

Walking is an “amazing treatment” that can fight a number of maladies — including heart disease and obesity — according to a news release by

OK, so I’m being a bit cheeky.

But the reason that Citiwire is playing up this obvious “news” is that there is a crisis in American walking — at least according to Tom Vanderbilt. He writes that walking has become an “act dwelling in the margins, an almost hidden narrative running beneath the main vehicular text.”

Simply put, Americans don’t like to walk and do like to drive. The urban and suburban environment is built to accommodate automobiles and people who drive them. Further, far too many of us have chosen places to live where walking is made more difficult because there are few destinations within (our ever-shrinking) walking distance.

I walked to work today. This semester I have gotten into the habit of walking on my teaching days largely because I usually only travel between campus and home. And if I do have to go elsewhere, well, I’m totally cool with walking. Downtown is only 20 minutes from my office. I ride my bicycle on Tuesdays and Thursdays because I start my day downtown at the Mudhouse.

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Comments 10

  1. Ian Brett Cooper wrote:

    I remember times in my 20s when I wouldn’t think anything of walking two miles, even as much as five miles was perfectly doable. Sure, I’d prefer to take a bus or cycle, but hey, sometimes walking is more fun.

    I guess I’m unusual, in that my mom used to walk everywhere – no distance too far, so I got my love of walking from her. Also, I never bought into the car culture – never learned to drive so I never owned a car. Also, unlike many westerners my age (50), I am not overweight, so I still can walk 5 miles without needing an emergency room visit at the end of it.

    My 10 year-old daughter also likes to walk. She actually prefers walking to cycling. We have arguments, because although I like to walk, I prefer cycling. But I indulge her occasionally, so sometimes she takes the morning bus to school and we we walk the two miles home in the afternoon.

    Posted 22 Apr 2013 at 10:50 am
  2. Steve A wrote:

    My next home has a “walkability” score of 12. OTOH, if I ride a bike instead, I can get anywhere – including a bus stop that’ll take me as far as the State Capitol in less than 15 minutes. Well, 20 if I include the community center gym which has a sauna and omelets at its cafeteria. Within that 15 minute radius is a seafood shop that is better than anything in Missouri. Walkability isn’t everything.

    When you come visit, we’ll take a five minute ride to get to the library and the only cinema in town…

    Posted 22 Apr 2013 at 11:15 am
  3. Steve A wrote:

    PS: the local Morman Church IS a five minute walk so some of this is about what’s important.

    PPS: the local tennis court is a four minute walk…

    Posted 22 Apr 2013 at 11:17 am
  4. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Central Los Alamos is wonderfully walkable. When we first moved here, we stayed in an apartment on Oppenheimer Drive near Trinity that was about a ten minute walk from any of the city offices or shopping.

    After a fruitless search for a home in that area, we ended up buying on North Mesa, which is about 4 miles from downtown via road or sidewalk, although probably only a mile or less if you are a skilled descender/ascender of the cliffs between the mesas. There are a few ways to ride a mountainbike between mesas and save distance if not time.

    I suppose we could have held out, but I liked the house we bought because you can walk out the front door and walk for miles on the mesas or canyons with the dogs. We do a lot of walking, just not to the store.

    Like Ian, I’ve never been averse to walking. When I was little (well, I still am by US standards), it was not unusual for me to walk from 7th Street in Buffalo to City Hall or church with my grandmother, who was an avid walker even in her fifties and sixties. Likewise was my mom, who grew up in Buffalo when it was considered normal to take the bus to work.

    We do need to resurrect some of those old habits.

    Posted 22 Apr 2013 at 12:20 pm
  5. Kevin Love wrote:

    Yes, walking and cycling is very important to improving health.

    I see from the City of Toronto website that the Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David McKeown, has calculated some of the health benefits of walking and cycling.

    From Table 1 on page 26 of:

    *Walking prevents 69 death each year.
    *Cycling prevents 49 deaths each year.

    Depending upon how you value human life, the financial benefits range from $130 million to $478 million. For details of the methods used to value human life, please see the report.

    This is just the value of the deaths, and not the injuries and diseases averted by walking and cycling.

    And this is just at the present rather low rate of cycling due to the poor existing cycle infrastructure.

    Those reading the report will note that even at the low value of human life, each dollar currently spent on cycle infrastructure delivers a 500% return on investment.

    Posted 22 Apr 2013 at 2:08 pm
  6. Andy Cline wrote:

    Hmmmm… so what you’re all admitting to is being weird 😉 Seriously, I ought to spend more time on walking topics.

    Posted 22 Apr 2013 at 2:27 pm
  7. Tom Armstrong wrote:

    I learned to walk places with my grandfather, who taught at William and Mary his entire career. He usually walked to work, walked home for lunch, walked back to his office to teach his afternoon sessions, then home again. If it was time for a treat, he would take me for a walk to the High’s Ice Cream Parlor on the other side of Merchant’s Square in Colonial Williamsburg from his house.

    Posted 22 Apr 2013 at 2:33 pm
  8. Ian Brett Cooper wrote:

    Kevin wrote: “And this is just at the present rather low rate of cycling due to the poor existing cycle infrastructure. ”

    This is why I find it hard to take anything you say seriously. The USA has 4 million miles of roads and streets, the vast majority of it in perfectly good condition and fine for cycling. The idea that there is not enough infrastructure, or that it is of poor quality is ludicrous. Anyone who truly wants to cycle can go right outside his door and find a perfectly good cycling surface within a few feet.

    Posted 22 Apr 2013 at 3:32 pm
  9. Khal Spencer wrote:

    We had a pitched battle in Los Alamos a few years ago when we tried to put sidewalks along all arterials and collectors. Some residents fought that tooth and nail because they wanted to preserve the “rural” aspect of Los Alamos. Such a thought is ludicrous on its face. We are not rural. We are a small city/large town of 18,000. What impedes walkability is the mindless resistance to reality. Many of these sidewalks were installed, but some key ones were not.

    My opinion on comment 5 vs. comment 8? I’d want to see each of those 4 million miles of roads and streets and categorize them mile by mile as to good, bad, or f–king awful, depending on specific conditions. I would not rate roads based on whether they had a “bike facility” but whether a competent cyclist could ride to and from his or her destinations without his/her heart in his/her mouth. Even a few miles of f**king awful road on an otherwise uneventful journey can turn a reasonable commute into a bad day for most citizens. It even annoys me.

    Posted 22 Apr 2013 at 5:16 pm
  10. Steve A wrote:

    Andy, real cyclists know that walking is something you do when you can’t fix your flat, as at

    Posted 22 Apr 2013 at 5:43 pm