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.