New report shows commuting on foot popular but not equal among DC residents

A new report from the Alliance for Biking & Walking examines the hard data behind the growing movement for more bicycling and walking and finds that walking to work in Washington, DC is more common than in other cities -- especially among wealthier residents -- and is also safer than in other cities.

Bicycling and Walking in the United States: 2014 Benchmarking Report collects and analyzes data from all 50 states, 52 of the most populous cities, and 17 small and midsized cities. The report traces the rise of walking and biking and explores their connections to health, economic and environmental issues, as well as their prominence as policy and funding priorities among state and local governments.

Washington, DC’s data indicates strongly that there is safety in numbers when it comes to traversing the city on foot. While residents are more likely to walk to work than in almost every other city, they are less likely to be struck and killed by cars than in other cities. At the same time, the report finds that walking to work is more common among residents with salaries above $65,000 than among those with salaries below $35,000.

Following are some highlights from the report.

Commuting on Foot: Washington, DC ranks second among large cities in its share of commuters who walk to work. (The city aims to greatly increase this share in the future: the Sustainable DC Plan establishes the goal of increasing walking and bicycling to 25 percent of all commuter trips by 2032.)

Share of commuters who walk to work
City...Percent of commuters
Washington, DC (ranked 2nd)...11.8%
Boston (highest)...15.0%
Fort Worth (lowest)...1.2%
Average among large U.S. cities...5.0%

Wealth disparites: An interesting yet perhaps not surprising statistic is that in Washington, DC, more than in many other cities, getting to work on foot is more common among residents with higher incomes than people with lower incomes. People earning $65,000 make up 41% of commuters who walk, while people earning less than $15,000 make up only 18% of the pedestrian commuters.

Percent of workers who walk to work, by annual income (total = 100%)
Less than $15,000...$15,000-$34,999...$35,000-$64,999...$65,000+...Annual income
18%...16%...25%...41%...Washington, DC
34%...28%...19%...19%...Large cities average
45%...30%...14%...9%...Large cities median

The statistics about commuting and wealth both could be the result of the growth of the city core as a place to live. Perhaps as the center of the city, where most jobs are located, has become a place where higher income people are living, those residents are able to walk to work, while lower income residents who live farther from job centers are driving or taking public transit. Whatever the reason, the disparity between the rates of commuting by foot among residents of different income levels contrasts to the experience of residents in similarly sized cities such as Baltimore, Boston and Seattle where many more low-income residents are walking to work, according to the report.

Pedestrian fatalities: Between 2009 and 2011, Washington, DC averaged 11.7 pedestrian fatalities each year. This number is relatively low, with Washington, DC ranking third among cities with the lowest pedestrian fatality rate per 10,000 pedestrians.

Pedestrian fatality rate per 10,000 pedestrians
City...Fatality rate
Washington, DC (ranked 3rd lowest)...3.3
Boston (lowest)...0.9
Jacksonville (highest)...41.6
Average among large U.S. cities...8.3

Interestingly, the data shows an inverse relationship between biking and walking levels and fatality rates. In that vein, in a comparison of walking to work and pedestrian fatality rates, cities in which a higher percentage of people walk to work experience a lower pedestrian fatality rate. Among large cities, Washington, DC pedestrians fare well, ranking second among the 52 largest cities for its low rate of pedestrian deaths compared to its high rate of commuting. Only Boston was ranks higher; New York City ranks third.

“A possible explanation is that in places where more bicyclists and pedestrians are present, motorists are more used to sharing the roadways with bicyclists and are more aware of pedestrians at crossings. Environmental factors (such as signed routes, bike lanes, and sidewalks) that contribute to increased bicycling and walking also likely contribute to increased safety,” according to the report.

Generally speaking, bicyclist and pedestrian fatalities are a smaller percentage of roadway deaths in cities where there are more people who bike and walk to work. Unfortunately, a shockingly high rate of Washington, DC’s traffic fatalities are pedestrians.

Percentage of traffic fatalities that are pedestrians
City...Fatality rate
Washington, DC (ranked 2nd)...43.8%
New York City (highest)...55.0%
Colorado Springs (lowest)...10.0%
Average among large U.S. cities...27.8%

The Alliance for Biking & Walking’s 2014 Benchmarking Report shows that many Washington, DC residents are enjoying the city’s walkability. However, the city can do more to ensure that all residents are enjoying the benefits of walking equally – and safely.