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American Walking Data Doesn’t Tell the Full Story – StreetsBlog USA




A recent shift in how the federal government measures Americans' travel behavior may have undercounted walking trips by more than half — and as transportation leaders look to that flawed data to make infrastructure decisions, it could have dire implications for the pedestrian of tomorrow.


In December of last year, sustainable transportation advocates were shocked when the feds announced that walking trips had plunged to just 6.8 percent of all journeys taken on U.S. roads, down from 10.5 percent from five years prior. That works out to a shocking 60-percent drop in total pedestrian journeys — and it seemingly occurred alongside a 38-percent reduction in trips on any mode, prompting speculation that Americans on the whole are both leaving home less and choosing motorized modes when they do.


That alarming data came from the National Household Travel Survey, which for 54 years has gauged Americans' typical travel patterns based on a series of 24-hour samples taken roughly every five years. The study has historically faced criticism for its constantly shifting methodology, which has, at various points, failed to account for walking at all, under-counted walking trips that start and end at the same destination, or ignored the mobility behavior of most kids who are too young to drive.


Even in its most problematic iterations, though, the data from the survey has maintained a major influence over how transportation leaders allocate funding and resources to active modes — or how much they don't.


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