Just 2.9% of American workers walked to work as of 2012, according to data recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau. However, the Census Bureau notes that there were massive regional differences in the proportion of people who chose to walk to a work. Different factors influence commuters’ preferences, including a city’s layout, climate, and infrastructure.
Boston residents were the most likely Americans to walk to work, with 15.1% doing so as of 2012. By comparison, less than 1% of workers in Gilbert, Arizona and Plano, Texas commuted on foot. Based on U.S. Census Bureau figures, these are the cities with the highest percentage of commuters walking to work.
While commuters choose walking for various reasons — ranging from lack of resources to simply residing near their place of business — many of the cities reviewed were also pleasant places to walk. The publicly accessible walkability index generated by Walk Score gave seven of the 10 cities a score of at least 70, a rating described as “very walkable,” as measured by residents’ proximity to amenities as well as friendliness to pedestrians. New York City, where more than 10% of residents walked to work, had a Walk Score of 87.6, the highest in the nation
High population densities also tended to encourage walking. For example, the New York City metropolitan area was the densest metro area nationwide, with 31,683 people per square mile in 2010. The area included two of the cities where a high proportion of commuters walked to work, New York City and Jersey City. Five other cities on this list were among the country’s 10 most densely-populated metro areas.
A walkable city also tends to support public transit and bike infrastructure. The cities where people walked most to work also had among the nation’s top five transit systems, as measured by Walk Score. These include New York, San Francisco, Boston, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, which all have well-developed and heavily used public transportation systems. On an average weekday, the New York area’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority has a daily ridership of more than 8.5 million people.
Cities where people walk to work are also often ideal destinations for residents who enjoy riding bikes. Five of these cities were among the 10 best large cities for the quality of biking. Most notably, San Francisco was the third best such city, with a Bike Score of 70, according to Walk Score. In fact, some of these cities not only had a high proportion of workers who walked to work, but also a substantial proportion of commuters who biked. In Madison, Wisconsin, more than 5% of workers commuted by bicycle, the second-most of any major city.
Of course, with walking a viable option for a large number of workers in these cities — in many cases supplemented by biking and public transit — relatively few households elected to own cars. As of 2012, just 9.2% of households nationwide did not have a car. In New York, that number was greater than 56%, the highest in the U.S. At least a third of households did not own a vehicle in half of the cities where people were most likely to commute by walking.
Many cities promote walking as a way to get-around due to the various health benefits associated with regular, brisk walking. According to the American Heart Association, walking half an hour a day reduces the risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, and stroke, while helping people improve their blood pressure and lower their body weight.
Based on recently released U.S Census Bureau figures, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the cities with the most workers walking to work between 2008 and 2012. Walk Score produced the figures on the quality of walking, biking and public transit. Data on population-weighted density and the percent of households without a vehicle are based on the 2010 Census and 2012 American Community Survey (ACS), respectively. We used the 2012 ACS for population data.
These are the cities where the most people walk to work.