Feet Or Wheels: One Hour Is Our Limit


Even though there are tons of studies that convey how walking more gets us happier, in better shape, and living longer lives, walking as a transportation method has been largely overlooked.

Over one century ago, in 1909, a man named Edward Payson Weston walked on foot from New York to San Francisco, walking approximately 40 miles each day. Nowadays, the majority of people are fortunate to walk even one mile in a day. Be honest: when did you last meet up with friends by walking there or head to work on foot? The majority of us would have to admit that walking is pigeonholed to moving from our car’s parking space to our work desk.

The Last Great Walk follows Weston during his cross-country foot commute, and author Wayne Curtis also serves up some insight into Italian physicist Cesare Marchetti’s 1994 observation saying that humans, from “the beginning of upright foot travel, have been willing to spend about an hour each day commuting.” In the days when leaving one’s home to seek for and hunt down food meant being in harm’s way of big predators also looking for a meal, time allotted to the outside world was no time to waste. Interestingly enough, a few of the world’s oldest cities, like Rome and Venice, were built three miles or less across. This permitted anyone within the cities’ walls to get to wherever it was they they needed to go– and come back home– in a relatively short period.

Amidst the rapid rate of growth seen in urban and suburban regions, Marchetti’s Constant is still standing strong. Available 2009 Census Bureau data finds that the mean average time for commuting in the United States is 25.1 minutes each way– or almost an hour for both ways.  “The key here is that the constant isn’t distance. It’s time—the amount we’re willing to spend in travel,” Curtis quips. Even though our cars can get us places “six or seven times faster than a walker,” Curtis says, that one hour of preferred travel time has stayed true.

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