Walking to Work

My brother was in town a few weeks ago. He's a photographer, so while he was here he met up with his friend Ashley and took pictures of her on her way to work. She's got her own blog, Fancy Fine, and mentioned that she walks 45 minutes (over 2 1/2 miles) to work 4 days a week in her post of his shots.

This got me to thinking, "How far do folks walk to work in San Francisco?"  I used to walk to work, my wife walks to work 1 to 2 days a week and I have other friends who walk to work. I also wondered how the distance, street experience, and type of work play into their decision to work. In the transportation planning world, the 1/4 mile or 1/3 mile walk are considered the furthest distance people are willing to walk to a train station or bus stop to get to work.

What we don't hear is how far, how much time, and what environments affect people's decisions to walk the entire journey to work.

Based on my short unscientific survey of folks I know who walk to work (and when I used to walk to work), I found two basic groups: the short walkers and the long walkers. Short walkers take 10-20 minutes to get to work, while the long walkers take 40-50 minutes. The short walkers walk between 0.5 to 1 mile one-way while long walkers walk an amazing 1 to 2.75 miles! What motivates them? I'm not quite sure yet, but many factors go into walking instead of biking, taking transit or driving. Some factors are attractors to walking while others are detractors from other modes.

Walking Attractors:
100% reliable - no need to wait for a bus, get stuck in traffic, or even have a bike break down
Direct route that may be more direct than driving or taking transit
Economical - it's free!
Health - other than biking, walking to work is healthy and an easy way to exercise

Other Mode Detractors (often the same forces as attractors but negative):
Unreliable - buses and trains don't always show up when they're supposed to
Some routes don't have a transit route
Parking and transit costs can be high or just add up over time
Buses and trains can be crowded and uncomfortable due to a bumpy ride
No health benefits

Paul Heckert at Running & Marathons Suite 101 notes the following top 10 reasons to walk to work:

  • It saves gas and money.
  • It reduces greenhouse emissions.
  • It saves money on parking fees.
  • It's good exercise.
  • Walking helps you lose weight.
  • It might be faster than driving (in major cities).
  • Shoes are cheaper than tires.
  • Food is cheaper than gas (you need to burn calories to walk).
  • Walking gives you time outside to think.
  • It takes longer to get there, what's the rush?
Finally, I've found is that for those longer walks of 40+ minutes there is a resistance to taking so much time. However, when you actually do the walk, overcoming a dismissive reasoning to something you may have never tried, that as long as you schedule appropriately you actually really enjoy the walk to work, and are more ready for work when you arrive since you have arrived fully awake, refreshed and ready to get going for the day.


  1. I walk to work from my neighborhood in Philadelphia to my office near Independence Hall. The walk takes about 20-25 minutes, depending on my walk speed which tends to be faster in the morning than in the evening. I also drop my son at daycare near my office, which adds some time. Google map suggests my walk is 1.5 miles each way. It's an easy walk, my son and I get some fresh air, and the bus (our only transit option) would probably take twice as long once you figure in wait times.

    BTW, as I understand the research, people are willing to walk 1/4 mile or 5 minutes to a bus and a 1/2 mile or 10 minutes to mass transit (i.e. subway).

  2. Barnwood Urbanist,

    Thanks for comment and description of your walk to work (AND to daycare).

    I really would love to do a study interviewing people like you, and the other thousands of folks who actually walk to work in cities like Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco, among others.

    You're right about the 1/4 mile walk to bus, but I had never heard 1/2 quoted for subways. In my experience during grad school in NYC, and professionally, I actually read a report or study that truly proved these distances were in fact the maximum distances folks were willing to walk. I need to do more research on it.

    1. I walk a lot in general and when I lived in DC I used to walk to work all the time because the buses were very unreliable. It took 20-30 mins depending on the day and the weather (a hot summer day can really slow you down especially when there are hills). I now live in NY & Im considering walking to get in shape. I checked the distance on Hopstop.com, total estimated time 1hr 15mins, 3.89 miles.I've
      done this walk a few times before, but it was a leisurely weekend walk, stopping in shops & for lunch. Never a straight shot, and never having to be on time. The new year seems like a good time to start. Im hoping the cool weather keeps me refreshed. My main concern is actually looking sweaty or a mess by the time I arrive. Guess I'll work out the kinks on that my 1st week. WISH ME LUCK!

  3. I just realised that for 2 years I've been walking a total of 2.6km~1.62miles for work, for about 20 minutes each way, 5 days a week. And honestly, being in Singapore, reaching work with sweat and feeling uncomfortable is just not tempting for long-term. If the walk is in autumn or spring, it might be perfect. But Singapore has got no such weathers. We are only blessed with hot humid or rain season. www.schmolphinlingers.com


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