Boston And Cambridge Are Leading Walk-To-Work Cities

Sure, it's easier to want to commute by foot when the weather's like this.

But, as it turns out, it's relatively common for Boston and Cambridge year-round.

From 2008 to 2012, Boston had the highest rate of walking to work among big U.S. cities, and Cambridge had the highest rate of walking to work among medium-sized cities, details a report from the U.S. Census Bureau on nonmotorized commutes, out Thursday.

Boston's walk-to-work rate was 15.1 percent over the five years surveyed. That's 3 percentage points higher than the No. 2 big city, Washington, D.C.

Cambridge's walk-to-work rate was even higher, at 24 percent — a full 7 percentage points higher than Berkeley, Calif., which was second among medium-sized cities.

The data come from the American Community Survey, which asked workers 16 and up how they usually got to work the week prior. If more than one mode of transportation was used in a trip, respondents were asked to choose whichever mode covered most of the distance.

The survey also measured biking to work.

There, Boston and Cambridge dropped down their respective cities lists some. Boston, with a bike-to-work rate of 1.7 percent, was not among the top 15 large cities. But Cambridge, at 7.2 percent, was the No. 4 medium-sized city, behind Boulder, Colo., Eugene, Ore., and Berkeley.

(A note here: The data are a few years old, so the bike numbers are likely lagging, especially given Boston's recent efforts at improving bike infrastructure. Further back, biking to work in Boston increased from 1.0 percent in the 2000 Census to the 1.7 percent from 2008 to 2012.)

The walking and biking percentages are, of course, affected by factors such as population density and demographics, and the overall physical sizes of the urban areas, to name a few.

As the report explains:

Local factors such as community size, design, infrastructure, and climate influence the availability, attractiveness, and affordability of each transportation mode. For example, in smaller cities, a greater percentage of the area's potential destinations are likely to be within biking or walking distance and automobile traffic may be relatively light, increasing the attractiveness of nonmotorized travel.

Indeed, the report adds, "[t]he Northeast stands out as having high rates of walking to work, which is driven by large, densely populated cities." The region had the highest rate of walking to work, at 4.7 percent. That was above the national rate of 2.8 percent.

(The West had the highest rate of biking to work, at 1.1 percent — above the U.S. rate of 0.6 percent. The 2,000-pound gorilla in the room: 86.2 percent commuted by car, truck or van.)

Biking and walking to work by age (U.S. Census Bureau)
Biking and walking to work by age (U.S. Census Bureau)

Also pushing Boston and Cambridge up the rankings: their relatively young populaces. The survey found that the young walk and bike to work at higher rates than older workers.

A few more interesting tidbits from the report:

  • Nationwide, biking to work is on the rise (especially in big cities), but walking to work is down.
  • "At 0.8 percent, the [U.S.] rate of bicycle commuting for men was more than double that of women at 0.3 percent."
  • "Rates of nonmotorized travel generally declined as household income increased, with some exceptions."

Update at 3:15 p.m.: Also don't miss the bureau's interactive map on commuting, so you can drill down on walking and biking by county or census tract.

Headshot of Benjamin Swasey

Benjamin Swasey Digital Manager
Ben is WBUR's digital news manager.



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