Americans eager to walk more, support plans to improve pedestrian environments

On April 1, 2003, the Surface Transportation Policy Project released the results of a new national survey on attitudes toward walking that finds that Americans want to walk more places more often, and are willing to invest in making it possible.

Poll results show that if given a choice between walking more and driving more, 55 percent of adults choose walking more. The poll shows overwhelming support for policies to make the walking environment less dangerous for people of all ages, and especially children. A majority (68 percent) favor putting more federal dollars toward improving walkability, even within a constrained budget.

"We need to make walking a safe, easy and appealing option for all Americans," said Anne Canby, president, Surface Transportation Policy Project.

"Walking is a critical part of the transportation system, but our institutions, programs, policies, and funding aren't providing the balance that citizens wantin part because of development patterns, but also because we plan, design and build transportation facilities for automobiles at the expense of other modes," said Canby.

Canby noted that nearly half of Americans consider traffic where they live a problem, yet building new roads is the least popular long-term solution among choices offered in the survey. Sixty-six percent say the best solution is "improve public transportation" or "develop communities where people do not have to drive long distances to work or shop." Only 25 percent of Americans advocate building new roads.

Policies that would make streets more friendly for walkers find overwhelming support in the poll:

  • Design Streets for Slower Traffic Speeds: 84%
    A wide majority support using state transportation dollars for street design that slows down traffic in residential areas, even though they may have to drive more slowly themselves. A majority of Americans (63%) report speeding
    as a problem in their neighborhoods.
  • Use Federal Funds to Make Walking Safer from Traffic: 68%
    A majority support increasing federal spending on making sure people can safely walk and cross the street, even within a constrained budget.
  • Fund Safe Routes to School: 74%
    A majority support using state transportation dollars to protect the walk to school from traffic dangers, making it easier for children to walk to school, even within a constrained budget.

Having a walking-friendly environment is especially important in light of the current epidemics of obesity, overweight and diabetes, which are caused and exacerbated by physical inactivity. Currently, one in five American adults is obese. Fifteen percent of children are overweight, three times the percentage that were overweight in 1980 (Centers for Disease Control). The
poll shows that only 17 percent of children ever walk to school.

"In America, we have super-sized our food, our highways, and now, unfortunately, our waistlines," said Richard Hamburg, director, government relations for the American Heart Association. "The simple remedy is to get 30 minutes of walking in a day, doing routine things."

Consumer demand for communities designed with walking in mind is being embraced by some developers. "We have realized greater long term value in our projects by locating close to transit, and in districts that feature great walking streets" said William Fleissig, co-founder, Continuum
Partners, a development company in Denver.

"We were able to make our 16 Market Square project more competitive in the local rental market by locating on the downtown pedestrian and transit mall."

Local governments that have invested in pedestrian facilities are seeing the benefits of increased foot traffic to local businesses and increased transit use. "When we invest to make walking safe, people walk. In Arlington,
walking is an essential part of the transportation system and throughout the day you see people on foot going to work, school and errands," said Dennis Leach, chair of the Arlington County Transportation Commission. "In fact, people make over 120,000 trips per day to and from Metro stations on foot."

"Americans are voting with their feetwalking is already the number one fitness activity in the nation, but we need to build a world where everyone can enjoy everyday walking for transportation. It's the simplest way to
stay healthy for life." said Mark Fenton, host of the PBS series, America's Walking and spokesperson for the national pedestrian advocacy group, America

"The accident rate for pedestrians is disproportionately high, and we need to address this by investing in safe, convenient facilities for walking," said Canby.

Currently, less than one percent of federal transportation
dollars go to protecting pedestrians, even though 12 percent of all traffic deaths are people killed while walking. "To the lawmakers who are contemplating how to spend upwards of $300 billion in federal transportation funds over the next six years, we say: Put the users back in the equation and give our citizens the choices they want."

The Surface Transportation Policy Project made recommendations to Congress on how the federal transportation law, up for reauthorization this year, could give communities the resources to become more walkable:

  • Authorize a Safe Routes to School program to dedicate federal safety funds to improving the walking environment around schools;
  • Incorporate pedestrian and bicycle accommodations in every transportation project
  • Provide local decision-makers with more of the federal
    transportation dollars, as local governments own 75 percent of the roads and streets in America's transportation system; and
  • Improve data and research effortscurrently only walking to work is counted in traffic studies.

This poll was made possible by the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The poll was conducted by telephone in October 2002 by Belden, Russonello and Stewart, with a sample size of 800 adults 18 years and over. The margin of sampling error is ±3.5 percentage points.

STPP is a national not for profit coalition of more than 800 organizations working to ensure that transportation policy and investments strengthen the economy, promote social equity, and make communities more livable.

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