22 March 2012

The Atlantic: “Why People in Cities Walk Fast”

Most work on urban walking speed dates back to 1976, when psychologists Marc and Helen Bornstein published a provocative paper on the topic in the top-tier journal Nature. The Bornsteins wanted to understand the relationship between a growing human population and an individual person's behavior. So they planted themselves in major activity centers of 15 different cities and towns in six different countries on warm sunny days, and timed how fast a couple dozen solitary, unsuspecting pedestrians covered about 50 feet of space. Eric Jaffe

Interesting study; it would certainly merit revisiting to get more up-to-date data – which I suspect will only further confirm the trend. I also like speeding up, especially when I find myself in a crowd moving along at its own – slow – pace. It’s more about getting in front of them, where I can assume my natural walking rhythm. If I were to speculate about the reason behind the more general trend, I would say people in larger cities have a more pressing sense of their goal – “I am going there to do this and that” – a need for efficient, economical use of time. I think factoring in the purpose of the trip – going to work vs. walking the dog – would yield some interesting correlations.

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