Wednesday, May 5, 2010

New Data from the National Household Travel Survey

For all the data geeks out there, the final 2009 National Household Travel Survey (NHTS) Data is now officially available for download from the NHTS website. The 2009 NHTS includes data on the travel of 150,000 households in the US, representing about around 1 million trips using all modes of travel, all times of day, and all purposes. It's a great source for understanding overall travel patterns in the US (and is the only nationwide source of walking data for non-work trips).

Unfortunately, NHTS data can't be disaggregated to understand the travel of specific states, regions, or cities, because it's only available for the country as a whole. Not only does this make it difficult to apply NHTS to specific areas, there is always the possibility of things being thrown off by the New York Factor (because of its vast population, high density, and unique transportation system, New York City tends to skew nationwide travel data).

Nonetheless, the latest round of data has some interesting info for us ped-heads:
  • About 11 percent of all trips in the US are made on foot (compared to about 82 percent by private vehicle, 1 percent by bike, and --this is why I generally favor pedestrian investment over transit spending--4 percent by public transit).
  • Relatively few people walk to work (about 6 percent of work trips), but nearly a quarter of all family/personal business and social/recreational trips are walking trips. This is why I feel it's very important to invest in neighborhood walkability: Americans might not be able to walk to the office, but they make up for it by walking a lot on their off time.
  • Compared to social and personal trips, school/daycare walking trips are relatively low; only about 10 percent of people walk to school/daycare/religious activities. Yet another argument for the importance of the Safe Routes to School program


  1. About the Safe Routes to School program:

    I invite you to try crossing at Loma Vista and Victoria at 7:45 in the morning. I've thumped on a handful of cars that have nearly hit us as we crossed legally. There are quite a few parents of Poinsettia students who allow their kids to walk home from school, but not to school, because of the dangerous rush hour traffic at this intersection. There are too many morning drivers drinking coffee, or talking on the phone, or both, and they really don't want to stop (or even look) before turning right on a red light. This is especially true when eastbound Loma Vista backs up and drivers get impatient.

    Then come back to the neighborhood around 2:30. We'll sit on the lawn of my Wake Forest house, and watch Buena students walking home, Buena students milling around as they wait for a ride, and Buena students jogging up the street (and in the street) in their track/cross country uniforms. And we'll watch Buena students driving up the street at twice the speed limit. Somebody is going to get hurt or killed on Wake Forest, probably a student. That's not an I-Told-You-So I'm looking forward to.

  2. Hi Mike--
    It really is astounding (and sometimes terrifying) to see the level of chaos that can erupt around schools during drop off/pick up times.

    The good news is that a lot of schools are taking a proactive approach and developing drop off/pick up programs, "walking school buses" and other strategies to try to address the problem. There are some very creative parents and teachers out there who have managed to come up with some good solutions.

    Also, I don't know how familiar you are with the Safe Routes to School program or if you participated in this week's conference call (see earlier post on May walking events), but Southern California's new SRTS Coordinator is starting a new network of parents, transportation planners, public health advocates, and others to better address this issue in our region (and hopefully get more funding along the way).

    I'd encourage you to get involved with the network, or at least check out the program's website to learn about what options.