How Dangerous Walking Conditions Disadvantage Women

Photo: Dan Burden
Photo: Dan Burden

San Diego resident Katie Matchett recently found herself in a position that American women will recognize all too well. She wanted to make a short trip — less than a mile — with four children. But thanks to a lack of safe sidewalk and street crossings, she reluctantly opted to drive instead.

At her blog Where the Sidewalk Starts, Matchett says women’s travel behavior is different than men’s in a number of ways. Women have more reasons to walk or bike, but the hostile street environment we’ve created shifts those trips to cars:

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.

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.

More recommended reading today: America Walks shares yesterday’s webinar about how racial bias in the criminal justice system intersects with walking and biking advocacy. And the Urbanist says Washington state’s plans for a “single-point urban interchange” in Seattle highlights the agency’s low regard for pedestrians and cyclists.

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    Fascinating – I don’t follow San Diego, but huge implications anywhere. SF, wake up. SFMTA won’t do this until their feet are held to the fire

  • 1980Gardener

    is there any basis for these assumptions? I wonder if this article is based upon sex stereotypes or something more tangible.

  • Ian Turner

    Given that men are more than 2X likely to be killed by walking, this headline feels a bit hyperbolic.
    http://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/t/pedestrians-and-bicyclists/fatalityfacts/pedestrians#Age-and-gender

  • Vooch
  • Jason

    Uh…the article is about why women wind up not walking.

    Also, men are known to make riskier decisions regarding physical safety than women.

  • meganm78

    Seriously? What a farce. You play the gender card because of course, women are perceived to be victims of everything. What would the response be if you put up a headline that roads are more dangerous to men because they tend to take more trips by car?

  • disqus_1pvtRUVrlr

    Stop. Just stop with this stuff. Who goes grocery shopping for a family on foot? How many bags of groceries can you carry or push, especially if you are also wrangling young children? How do you trip chain on foot unless you live in a very dense city (e.g. Manhattan)? As a dad this is also patently offensive; my wife and I split most of those trips noted, and the accompanying photo is quite ironic; it shows two women walking for what appears to be recreation which doesn’t match with the story’s narrative. And this kind of story, perpetuating identity politics and victimhood is precisely why we are seeing such division and backlash. Stories like this just come across as endless, shrill screeching. There are plenty of substantive issues to cover without resorting to this nonsense.

  • oceanstater

    I’m more bothered by both genders inability to walk safely after snow storms when roads get cleared quickly by sidewalks usually remained unshovelled, or worse, that’s where snow from roads and/or parking lots gets piled up fro a long time. “Complete street” advocates rarely seem to think about enforcement of laws such as those requiring clearing sidewalks.
    There may be differences with regard to walking trips between men and women but I can’t say this article was persuasive. I have read that there is data that the perception of personal safety around transit systems is important to a higher % of women than men which makes sense as women are usually physically more vulnerable (and mayne more risk-averse?)

  • cjstephens

    Once again, Angie Schmitt delivers “Meteor Destroys Earth; Women, Minorities, Hardest Hit.” Safe streets are too important to us all to get bogged down in garbage identity politics like this.

  • Frank Kotter

    Q1: My wife and I. My wife a bit more.
    Q2: with the stroller, about 40 pounds
    Q3: You don’t, you knock them off one at a time.

    Comments:

    Coming down on the author for pointing out relevant information and bringing new perspective is a bad look for you. Add your tone and it’s a catastrophe.

    The photo absolutely fits the narrative and my own personal experience: My wife stuck to the multi-use trail to nowhere on her morning stroll with the kid, then got in the car to grab coffee with the other mothers in the other direction. Why? Coffee was all but inaccessible on foot.

    Talk about ‘victimhood’….. Do you desire an apology from Ms Schmitt?

  • Frank Kotter

    The response from you? I doubt you would be spitting nails like you are now.

  • disqus_1pvtRUVrlr

    No frank, I’m just tired of these contrived articles screaming victim. Back up these claims with actual statistics, not hypotheticals that make gross assumptions as to comparative risk.

    And no, you can’t do substantive shopping with a stroller unless it is devoid of kids. Your arguments are weak.

  • AMH

    I’m amazed by all the outrage at well-established demographic travel patterns. None of this is revolutionary, but that doesn’t mean it’s pointless to be reminded of something that doesn’t get a lot of attention.

  • theizaster

    your picture says it all smh

  • cjstephens

    Is it because you think white males are automatically wrong? Or is it because you think we shouldn’t point out divisive stupidity because someone’s feelings might get hurt?

  • Frank Kotter

    I desire a walkable neighborhood. You like the status quo – well, probably more the reality twenty years ago before those kids started causing all this trouble – and that is fine. If Ms. Schmitt and others, including myself, can’t currently achieve this goal, it doesn’t make us victims. You said that. So yes, stop with the victimhood indeed!

    We obviously have differing lifestyles. That is also fine.

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