Thursday, January 25, 2018

Walking Towards Justice Series

I'm really happy that America Walks has started this important discussion of how factors such as gender, race, and income level impact the walkability of our communities. As an industry and advocacy community, we've been guilty of ignoring these issues for too long, and it's great to see that beginning to change.

I'm especially excited to see that the next webinar in the series will focus on street harassment, which  I've both experienced (like probably every other woman) and written about in the past. Street harassment harms women's mobility, reduces walkability, and is a serious concern for women all over the world. I'm looking forward to this discussion!

You can register for the upcoming webinar here. 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Sexism on the Sidewalk: How Poor Street Design Keeps Women from Walking

Source: Burden
“Can we walk there?” my daughter asked.
I was facing down a long afternoon with four kids under eight. A trip to the local coffee shop was in order, and since it was less than a mile away, I did what any good walkability advocate would do: I tossed all the kids in the mini-van and drove there.

My choice, like so many of women’s travel choices, was based primarily on safety. I was confident the kids could walk that far, and I knew it would be the healthier and more interesting choice for all of us--but without good walkability, I wasn’t sure that I could keep them all safe.

All across the country women, in particular mothers, make similar choices every day. Poor street design, disparate land use, time constraints, lack of personal safety—all of these conspire to force women off their feet and into cars. We have built a transportation system that discounts women’s travel needs, and women—and our communities—are suffering for it.

To understand what we should be doing better, it’s important to understand how women’s travel is different from men’s travel. Women make more trips than men, but travel shorter distances. They travel more with children, and their trips are more likely to be household-serving (e.g., shopping, daycare, errands), rather than for work or leisure. Women are also more likely to trip-chain (stop at multiple locations along the way during one trip). In particular for women with young children who haven’t started school, gender drives travel patterns.

Source: Burden
In theory, the trips women take the most are ideally suited for walking. Short trips to the school, grocery store, or similar locations should be simple to complete on foot--and in the most walkable neighborhoods, women do walk a lot. However, more often we’ve built walkablility out of our neighborhoods. Our streets lack sidewalks where kids can walking hand-in-hand or be pushed in a stroller. We fail to provide safe, regular crossing points along key routes. We create neighborhoods where stores, schools, and (critically) childcare are too far apart to be accessed on a single walking trip. We fail to consider the design elements (lighting, lack of hidden spaces, etc.) that can deter crime and make women feel safe while walking.

These challenges have a real impact on women’s health. One recent study investigated the physical activity patterns of over 700,000 people in 111 different countries. Using travel data from cell phone records, the researchers developed a measure of activity inequality that quantified the difference between the most physically active and least physically active portions of the population. Not surprisingly, the US appears near the head of the list of least equal countries, topped only by Egypt, Canada, Australia, and Saudi Arabia.