Walking Less and Cycling More After the Pandemic

Young BicyclistThe pandemic has wrought a stark change in how Americans get around – 36% less walking and 37% more cycling. Meanwhile, pedestrian deaths hit a 40-year high last year. Active transportation in the U.S. has both risks and rewards.

A Universal Decline

The drop in walking trips was uniform across the country. Emily Adler, the director at Streetlight Data who compiled the analysis with these observations, tells us:

“What is most notable here is how universal this decline is, though there are geographic distinctions.”

Though the decline is happening everywhere, it’s less in cities with warmer climates. This is significant to Adler:

“If walking is declining less in warm weather metros, or coming back faster, it suggests that walking is becoming primarily a form of recreation. That’s good for public health, but if we’re thinking about climate, and if walking is less of a utility mode, then it’s going to be much harder to replace vehicle trips with walking trips.”

Cycling Growth

The top growth in cycling came in New York City, which experienced a 97% increase since 2019. There, it seems that the shift to cycling is a shift away from the subways. Though ridership has recently rebounded somewhat on the subway, it’s not at all clear that the system will see levels of ridership it had before the pandemic. People have shifted into new habits that may be sticking.

Elsewhere in the country, the trends in cycling are quite variable. San Diego invested in bikes and bike lanes and saw a 71% growth in bike trips. But Portland, which has long favored cycling, saw a seven percent drop. Others are catching up.

Pedestrian Deaths

Amid these trends for less walking and more cycling, pedestrian deaths reached a shocking new level. More than 7,500 pedestrians were struck and killed last year – the most since 1981. Overcoming this will require broader adoption of a Safe System approach to infrastructure that protects pedestrians, says the Governors Highway Safety Association. Right now, too many communities are built to favor vehicles over pedestrians. Those vehicles have become bigger and more deadly to people on foot.

It’s time for infrastructure to catch up with the desire of people to get places under their own power.

Click here, here, and here for more on these trends.

Young Bicyclist, painting by Lilla Cabot Perry / WikiArt

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November 10, 2023