Where and Why Walking or Biking to Work Makes a Difference

It’s been more than seven years since Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett put his entire city on a diet and invested in wider sidewalks, better bike routes, and a larger park to encourage fitness. For politicians and urbanists alike, the connection between the shape of our cities and the shape of our bodies is clear. Those of us who live in sprawling suburbs and commute to work by car are less likely to be healthy, while those of us who live in dense urban neighborhoods end up healthier because we’re more likely to bike or walk to work.

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Unless, that is, people in compact urban areas don’t actually walk or bike to work a great deal more, even though it’s a readily available option.

A new study by Timothy Wojan and Karen Hamrick from the U.S. Department of Agriculture takes a close look at the connections between urban form—especially compact cities and metros—and the level at which people walk or bike to their jobs. To get at this, the researchers use detailed data from the American Time Use Survey that collects information on how Americans spend their time, including the kinds of activities in which people engage and what they eat.

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