When was the last time you walked somewhere? We’re not talking a stroll from the cubicle to the water cooler – when did you last travel somewhere (from your home or your office) by foot? If you’re like most Americans, it’s probably been a while. Urban sprawl has taken over most populated areas in the US, and this pattern of development makes many of us reliant on a car every day of the week. According to the Urban Land Institute, people drive 20-40% less in more compact developments (walkable neighborhoods). New home buyers and renters know this, which may be why savvy realtors publish WalkScore data with their housing listings.

Funding pedestrian infrastructure is easier said than done. The Drawdown book states that “in low-income countries, around 70% of urban transportation budgets go toward car-oriented infrastructure, though roughly 70% of trips are taken on foot or mass transit.” Even large cities like Orlando, Florida spend orders of magnitude higher on expanding vehicle infrastructure (adding and widening highways) to accommodate more cars than on pedestrian paths such as sidewalks.

By focusing on short trips (less than a mile), we can make significant progress towards reducing automobile dependence. In fact, private vehicles account for 60% of trips of a mile or less, which represents a huge opportunity for improvement.

The Drawdown predictions are based a 5% reduction in automobile trips (or 1 out of 20 trips). For the purposes of this article, let’s look at a typical week’s worth of trips for a work-at-home family in the summer. These trips include going to the gym, dropping kids off at summer camp, picking the kids up from summer camp, visiting the library to pick up and return materials, a doctor’s appointment, an orthodontist appointment, bringing the kids to swim lessons, going out for dinner, and driving to the lake with friends. After counting these trips up (all 20 of them), it turns out that 14 of these trips (70%) are under one mile and could be done by foot.

Shortly after calculating these trips, we chose to walk the 6 blocks to gymnastics

Here are five benefits of walking for short trips:

Reduced Emissions from Automobile Usage

According to the EPA, car trips under one mile are responsible for about 4 million metric tons of CO2 emissions each year. By keeping our cars off the road for these short and quick trips, we can reduce the amount of fossil fuels burned for automotive transportation, and also reduce the associated air pollution impacts.

Downtown San Diego – super walkable

Exercise

Walking is an excellent way to stay healthy and reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Using your own two feet to tackle your next errand is a surefire way to rack up the steps on your Fitbit, while boosting your mood in the process. Walking can burn around 100 calories per mile, so this family covering 14 trips out and back for 28 total miles would be burning an extra 2,800 calories a week – that’s almost a pound of fat a week (1 lb fat = 3,500 calories)!

Getting in the steps

Cost Savings

By walking those 14 trips mentioned in the example above, this family can save about 28 miles of driving each week (each trip was “out and back”). At $3/gallon for gasoline (assuming the family drives a gas-powered vehicle that gets 32 MPG), this family would save $2.63/week or $137/year by walking the short trips instead of driving. That’s a nice family night out!

Gas savings calculations get a little wonky when you drive an electric vehicle charged by solar panels

Social Interaction

Getting out of your car and walking around your neighborhood is one of the best ways to get to know your neighbors and others in your community. Studies show that people who live in walkable communities are happier than those in sprawled suburbs based on the number of opportunities for social interaction every day – think of walking to the store and catching a smile from a stranger.

Walking makes you happy!

Connection to Nature

Fresh air, smelling the flowers and plants, gazing at the scenery in the distance – these things are not experienced the same way inside a car. By using your own two feet, you can open up your world to new sights, sounds, smells and even textures while you walk along.

Stop and stare at the bugs

Actions You Can Take Today:

  • Look up your home and workplace WalkScore to find inspiration for nearby opportunities for walking
  • Write out your next 20 planned driving trips (everything from picking the kids up from school, going to the gym, doctors appointments, picking up prescriptions, visiting the library, and going into the office), and try to identify at least one of those trips that can be taken by foot. If you can’t come up with at least one walkable trip, explore options for relocating to a more walkable location (particularly if you are a renter)
  • Find ways to combine your errands to reduce drive tips, for example picking up groceries on the way home from work

Related LEED® v4 Credits:

  • LEED BD+C, LTc LEED for Neighborhood Development Location (8-16 pts)
  • LEED BD+C, LTc High-Priority Site (1-2 pts)
  • LEED BD+C, LTc Surrounding Density and Diverse Uses (1-5 pts)
  • LEED BD+C, LTc Access to Quality Transit (1-5 pts)
  • LEED BD+C, LTc Bicycle Facilities (1 pt)
  • LEED BD+C, LTc Reduced Parking Footprint (1 pt)