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.
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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.
10. Jersey City, N.J.
> Pct. walking to work: 8.5%
> Walk score: 84.4 (2nd highest)
> Pct. households with no car: 38.7% (3rd highest)
> Population density (of metro area): 31,251.4 (the highest)
Jersey City lies on the Hudson River across from downtown New York City and is considered part of the New York City metropolitan area. The roughly 15-square mile city ranked as the second most walkable after only New York City, according to Walk Score. As of 2012, nearly 39% of households in the city did not own a car, the third highest percentage out of the 100 cities reviewed, and far lower than the 9.22% of American households overall. Many of its 254,441 residents work in New York, and it is the second largest city in New Jersey after nearby Newark.
9. Philadelphia, Pa.
> Pct. walking to work: 8.6%
> Walk score: 76.5 (6th highest)
> Pct. households with no car: 32.6% (6th highest)
>Population density (of metro area): 7,773.2 (8th highest)
Nearly one third of households in Philadelphia did not own a car in 2012, more than just a handful of cities. Those who did not drive frequently walked to work. While only 2.9% of all American commuters walked to work, 8.6% of commuters in Philadelphia did. Philadelphia's walk score of 76.5 -- one of the best in the country -- means that most of the residents' errands could be accomplished on foot. The city received a score of 68.4 out of a possible 100 for its bike infrastructure, better than all but just four other cities reviewed.
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8. Honolulu, Hawaii
> Pct. walking to work: 9.0%
> Walk score: 62.6 (19th highest)
> Pct. households with no car: 18.3% (19th highest)
> Population density (of metro area): 11,548.2 (4th highest)
Like most walkable cities, Honolulu is quite dense. Despite its relatively small population size of just 345,610 in 2012, its population density averaged more than 11,000 people per square mile in 2010, more than all but three other cities. Living in densely populated urban areas tends to discourage car ownership. More than 18% of Honolulu households did not own a car, nearly double the national rate in 2012. While the city's walk score of 62.6 was not exceptionally high, its residents were still among the most likely Americans to walk to work.
7. Seattle, Wash.
> Pct. walking to work: 9.1% (tied for 6th)
> Walk score: 70.8 (10th highest)
> Pct. households with no car: 16.7% (23rd highest)
> Population density (of metro area): 4,721.6 (24th highest)
Seattle had the ninth best public transit score among all cities, according to Walk Score, which also ranked the city 10th for walkability, and 11th for bike friendliness. As a result, many residents chose to avoid driving to work. More than 9% commuted to work on foot and another 3.4% by bike, both among the highest proportions in the country. According to the Seattle Department of Transportation, the city’s long-term goal is to become the nation’s most walkable city. Although the Seattle metro area is more densely populated than most cities, the population is still relatively widely dispersed in comparison to New York, Boston, San Francisco, and other large cities of similar size.
6. Madison, Wis.
> Pct. walking to work: 9.1% (tied for 6th)
> Walk score: 47.4 (33rd highest)
> Pct. households with no car: 13.0% (32nd highest)
> Population density (of metro area): 3,502.2 (54th highest)
With a population of slightly more than 240,000 in 2012, Madison is the smallest city with a high proportion of residents who walk to work. Compared to other cities, Madison is one of the friendliest cities to bikers. Roughly 5% of the area’s workforce biked to work, more than in any city except for Portland, Oregon. Madison was also ranked as the nation’s seventh most bike-friendly city, according to Walk Score. Likely helping the city's bike friendliness is the city’s bike share program, B-cycle. Still, area households were not so quick to give up their cars. Just 13% of Madison households did not have a car as of 2012, lower than in any other city where so many people walk to work.
5. San Francisco, Calif.
> Pct. walking to work: 9.9%
> Walk score: 83.9 (3rd highest)
> Pct. households with no car: 31.4% (7th highest)
> Population density (of metro area): 12,144.9 (2nd highest)
San Francisco received excellent walk, transit, and bike ratings from Walk Score’s most recent review. The city scored better than all but one or two cities in every category. Nearly a third of households did not own a car in 2012, more than all but a handful of other cities. Because city residents are relatively wealthy, not owning a car may be a matter of choice due to the city's relatively high population density. While personal income in San Francisco exceeded $66,591 per capita in 2012 -- third highest nationwide -- only the New York City metro area was more dense than the San Francisco region. In 2010, there were 12,144 people per square mile on average.
4. New York City, N.Y.
> Pct. walking to work: 10.3%
> Walk score: 87.6 (the highest)
> Pct. households with no car: 56.5% (the highest)
> Population density (of metro area): 31,251.4 (the highest)
New York City received the highest public transit and walk ratings from Walk Score’s most recent rankings. The New York metro area had the highest population density in the U.S. in 2010, with 31,251 people per square mile. New York also had the fifth largest subway system in the world with roughly 229 miles of routes. New Yorkers often walk because they generally do not have to walk far to go to work, shop or run errands The high population density and availability of services could explain why a whopping 56.5% of New York households did not own a car -- by far the highest out of any American city.
3. Pittsburgh, Pa.
> Pct. walking to work: 11.3%
> Walk score: 59.8 (21st highest)
> Pct. households with no car: 23.9% (13th highest)
> Population: 2,990.8 (79th highest)
Unlike many other cities that had a relatively high proportion of commuters walking to work, Pittsburg wasn’t particularly dense, with less than 3,000 people per square mile on average in 2010. And compared to 2000, the region has become even less dense. The city has shown interest in improving its walkability. Last year, the three Southwestern Pennsylvania transportation management associations formed a partnership to produce WalkPittsburgh.org, an initiative dedicated to improve Pittsburgh’s walkability.
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2. Washington, D.C.
> Pct. walking to work: 12.1%
> Walk score: 74.1 (9th highest)
> Pct. households with no car: 37.9% (4th highest)
> Population density (of metro area): 6,388.1 (13th highest)
The nation’s capital ranked high in in walkability, biking friendliness, and the quality of its transit systems. The D.C. metro area had one of the highest population densities in the country with more than 6,388 people per square mile. While the city’s subway system, typically referred to as the Metro, is ranked highly by Walk Score, attractions such as the White House, the city’s 18 national monuments and the city’s annual Cherry Blossom festival could make walking to work a more pleasant experience.
1. Boston, Mass.
> Pct. walking to work: 15.1%
> Walk score: 79.5 (4th highest)
> Pct. households with no car: 36.9% (5th highest)
> Population density (of metro area): 7,980.1 (7th highest)
More than 15% of Boston area residents walked to work as of 2012, by far the highest percentage in America. This is not surprising considering Boston received the fourth highest walk score after only New York, Jersey City, and San Francisco. The city also received the third-best transit score and the seventh-best biking score of any large city. This partially explains why nearly 37% of all households in the city did not own a car, one of the highest percentages in the nation. Currently, however, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, which operates public transit systems in and around Boston, is expected to increase prices for bus, subways, and commuter rail service.