Which are the most and least walkable countries?

by on August 21, 2017 at 9:26 am in Data Source, Travel | Permalink

In a recent study by researchers at Stanford University, Indonesia, the world’s fourth-most-populous nation, came in last among 46 countries and territories for the number of walking steps its citizens take, averaging only 3,513 a day.

By comparison, Hong Kong was first with 6,880, and China second with 6,189. Ukraine, Japan and Russia rounded out the top five. The study tracked 717,000 people in 111 countries, who voluntarily monitored 68 million days of activity using an app on their smartphones and watch devices that was designed by Stanford researchers — the largest such tracking study ever, the researchers said. Each place needed to have at least 1,000 participants to be ranked in the report.

Jakarta, an urban sprawl of approximately 10 million people, with a metropolitan region of about 30 million, is the poster child of the nation’s walking woes.

Only 7 percent of the capital’s 4,500 miles of road have sidewalks, according to local government data.

That is from Joe Cochrane at the NYT.  Those results are consistent with my intuitions, noting that I sometimes find India difficult to walk in. By the way, the two countries with the highest “Activity Inequality” are the United States and Saudi Arabia.

Here are data on the walkability of various American cities.  The estimable Chug refers me to this short piece on the walkability of the Jersey shore.

1 Axa August 21, 2017 at 9:46 am

In emerging economies, an smartphone, being able to read English and the will to participate in an study correlates with an specific set of people: rich and educated. Perhaps the people that walks more can’t afford an smartphone.

It would be interesting to know a bit the people that participated in the survey to verify if they are representative of the whole population.

2 T August 21, 2017 at 6:21 pm

Even the “non-rich” and “non-educated” in countries like Indonesia have smartphones. They buy them as an investment and tool for work.

3 Urban Demographics August 21, 2017 at 9:51 am

Needless to say that smartphone data from 717,527 individuals is far from being a representative sample, particularly in poor countries where these devices are not accessible to low-income people. I should read the paper methods more carefully, but I’m surprised that such bold claims made in the paper (or at least the ones reverberated in the media) got published in Nature.

4 Ray Lopez August 21, 2017 at 10:05 am

Living in the tropics myself, I can assure you poor people have smart phones. In fact, their phones are often more advanced than mine (I am using an old style flip phone with no touchscreen at the moment). Intuitively, though it’s counter-intuitive, the study makes sense to me. People in southeast Asia think that walking is a sign of low status, and they will hire a pedicab (tricycle pedal driver) to ferret them 100 meters.

5 Urban Demographics August 21, 2017 at 10:12 am

I’m also from a developing country but this fact does not make my anecdotal evidence more ‘true”.

6 Todd K August 21, 2017 at 10:45 am

India is expected to have 500 million internet users by early 2018.

“Urban India with an estimated population of 444 million already has 269 million (60%) using the Internet. Rural India, with an estimated population of 906 million as per 2011 census, has only 163 million (17%) Internet users. (92% of rural primarily use mobile phones to access the internet.)

Safe to say that there are a ton of poor Indians using smart phones.

7 Urban Demographics August 21, 2017 at 1:06 pm

The population of India is estimated to be 1.3 billion these days, which means that more than 50% of the India population has no internet whatsoever, needless to say in smartphones, and this proportion is probably much higher among low-income people.

I don’t question the fact that a larger absolute number of people including in lower-income classes use smartphones in poor countries. My point is that there is still a large share of the population with no smartphones and this share presents a clear socioeconomic bias. The data used in the paper need to be considered with caution and any conclusion base on such such is hardly representative of all socioeconomic classes in the countries analyzed.

8 Careless August 21, 2017 at 2:23 pm

Of course, almost a third of Indians are under 15, so it’s not a huge shock they’re not owning cell phones

9 Careless August 21, 2017 at 2:25 pm

200 million under the age of 10

10 Todd K August 21, 2017 at 3:43 pm

” The data used in the paper need to be considered with caution and any conclusion base on such such is hardly representative of all socioeconomic classes in the countries analyzed.”

Of the 46 countries, this might apply to India, but all other countries are rich enough that much of the poor would be represented.

11 Thiago Ribeiro August 21, 2017 at 10:04 am

“By the way, the two countries with the highest “’Activity Inequality’ are the United States and Saudi Arabia.”
America keeps kepping good company, I see. So thet is what America has become: a country where the 1% controls the walks with Wahhabist zeal.

12 Jay August 21, 2017 at 10:12 am

Variance won’t be driven by rich or poor, so much as it will be a function of do you live in a city or do you live in suburbia. There are rich and poor in urban and suburban areas of the US.

13 Thiago Ribeiro August 21, 2017 at 10:30 am

Why are there is such a hugh variance unlike any other country but Saudi Arabia?

14 Jay August 21, 2017 at 1:04 pm

Look at population density of the continental US vs the rest of the world.

15 Thiago Ribeiro August 21, 2017 at 1:17 pm

Is there a legitimate reason to let some people grab most of the walks? Brazil has much more space than America, but I doubt we would allow it to happen in Brazil.

16 FYI August 21, 2017 at 12:01 pm

Well, here’s some inequality for you Thiago:
https://noticias.uol.com.br/ultimas-noticias/agencia-estado/2017/08/21/brasil-registra-28-mil-homicidios-no-1-semestre.htm

28 thousand deaths in the first 6 months. That’s progress!

17 Thiago Ribeiro August 21, 2017 at 12:49 pm

President Temer is making stromg progress and this problem is improving rapidly. Crime is illegal and rare in Brazil, and we would never elect a criminal like your Trump or Clinton as president. I have never felt threatened by murder here. Temer has a child by his much young wife and Brazil invented the airplane.

18 Thiago Ribeiro August 21, 2017 at 1:04 pm

Stop impersonating me.

19 Thomas Taylor August 21, 2017 at 2:41 pm

No, you stop impersonating ME

20 Thiago Ribeiro August 21, 2017 at 1:13 pm

It is sad to see that you have to knowtow to your American masters (I can not imagine an American in Brazil being forced to behave this way) and try to hide the notorious and systematic unequalities that are the hallmark of American society. Its not possibe to make an honest comparison between Brazil’s problems, that are small and are being faced with honesty, courage and eficiency, and the problems that plague America and warp the souls of a society dedicated to the worship of the Almighty Dollar! There is nothing in Brazil’s history like America’s wars of aggression or Jim Crow.

21 rayward August 21, 2017 at 10:13 am

One wonders what autonomous vehicles will do for walkability. No doubt the companies that invest billions in autonomous vehicles won’t promote walkability, Ford, GM, and Chrysler (and the oil companies) certainly didn’t promote walkability (or transit). Of course, Americans abhor planning, or have been convinced they do, so I wouldn’t expect the revolution in autonomous vehicles to coincide with a revolution in planning for efficient transportation (walking or otherwise). Millennials seem not to have a love affair with the personal vehicle, so maybe the future of transportation will be brighter than the past. Probably not. My great uncle was a pioneer in what was then the new field of “landscape architecture”, which had a very different meaning and purpose than it does today – landscape architects in the early days focused on creating an urban environment that was aesthetically pleasing and efficiently designed (what we might call “urban planning”), not expensively landscaped homes in the suburbs that waste more water than a golf course. Somehow the field got hijacked by the automobile and oil industries. Can the autonomous vehicles industry avoid the same fate as “landscape architecture”? What a silly idea. On the other hand, I’ve commented many times that “autonomous vehicles” is just a euphemism for “transit”, a public/private partnership in which the public pays the costs (of a dedicated right of way) while the private collects the revenues. Will the public object to such an arrangement? What a ridiculous idea.

22 TMC August 21, 2017 at 10:18 am

“I’ve commented many times that “autonomous vehicles” is just a euphemism for “transit””

Doesn’t make it true. The only thing that shifts is the driver. My gas taxes still pay for the roads, so what is there to object to?

23 Al August 21, 2017 at 11:56 am

It hurts his feels. Acknowledge the “truth” of his pain.

24 TMC August 21, 2017 at 4:00 pm

OK, fair enough. Rayward is a pain. (only sometimes, other times I like his stories).

25 Jay August 21, 2017 at 10:16 am

If one wanted to measure the effectiveness of health systems, shouldn’t one take something like this into considerations instead of a simpleton analysis of Y = mX + b – where Y is life expectancy and X is health care spending? Is it really the fault of the health care system when the population is poisoning itself into getting diabetes / pulmonary diseases by choosing unhealthy lifestyles?

26 dan1111 August 21, 2017 at 10:44 am

Yes, this is a significant issue. At least some comparative research does try to account for it, but it’s difficult to do fully, because many lifestyle differences are hard to measure.

27 Jay August 21, 2017 at 4:04 pm

So those well-educated liberal elites simply throw up their hands and say, “if we can’t measure it assume 0 impact and claim the entire gap has to do with other factors”?

“Other factors” is code word for the factors they are emotionally attached to. For another example see male/female “pay gap”. Many liberals still claim women make 80% what men make for “doing the same work”. The semi-sensible ones recognize that identified factors beside sex can explain 10 percentage points difference but then assume by default the error term of the model = sexism.

28 Ricardo August 21, 2017 at 10:20 am

I expect the “active inequality” in the U.S. and Saudi Arabia are reversed… intuition tells me that in the U.S., the affluent walk more; in Saudi Arabia they walk less. (Similarly [and relatedly?], in the U.S. it is the poor, not the affluent, who are overweight…)

29 SP August 21, 2017 at 10:24 am

Australia, Canada, and Egypt are in between Saudi Arabia (in first/last) and the US in the inequality rankings.

Source: http://activityinequality.stanford.edu/#data

30 CD August 21, 2017 at 12:04 pm

Yes. I was just about to join the bitching about how hard India is to walk in, but Canada and Australia are both places where municipalities build and maintain good sidewalks. This suggests that suburbanization is part of the story.

31 Nebfocus August 21, 2017 at 10:28 am

Walking in India is arduous. It’s loud, dirty and the sidewalks are often more dangerous than the street.

32 Tom T. August 21, 2017 at 5:39 pm

Well, they’re somebody’s home.

33 Picador August 21, 2017 at 10:36 am

From the paper:

“Walking is the most popular aerobic physical activity, but our
dataset may fail to capture time spent in activities where it is impractical
to carry a phone (for example, playing soccer or swimming) or steps
are not a major component of the activity (for example, bicycling)”

The NYT article about Jakarta shows at least one bicyclist. Bicycles are _extremely_ common in many Asian cities, but there is no discussion of bicycles in the discussions of Indonesia, and the researchers acknowledge that bicycling is a blind spot in their dataset.

Just wondering if bikes are the missing part of this puzzle that would mute some of the peaks and valleys in this story.

34 Moo cow August 21, 2017 at 11:17 am

My fitbit knows whether I’m walking or cycling.

35 Khalil August 21, 2017 at 6:27 pm

Cycling isn’t particularly popular in Jakarta compared with other Asian cities (such as those in China). Speculative reasons for this are: road condition and safety, and the long distances people have to commute for work. This second point is in my view particularly pertinent given the large number of people that commute more than 30km to central Jakarta every day. So, motorcycles are very popular, bicycles are not. At this stage cycling is the domain of fashionable elites and expats who conduct a Sunday morning ride through Jakarta.

36 Careless August 21, 2017 at 10:48 am

Of course, given how very slowly Indonesians walk, they still spend a lot of time walking

37 Khalil August 21, 2017 at 6:12 pm

There is a very good reason for walking slowly when you live in the tropics. You don’t get as hot!

38 Careless August 22, 2017 at 12:21 am

Spent time in the SA rain forest, Malaysia, Thailand. Never seen people as slow as Indonesians

39 Hugo Villeneuve August 21, 2017 at 12:38 pm

Having walked in Jakarta 40 min every workday on my way back home for 4 years I can confirm that it is very difficult indeed:
* frequent evening rain (umbrella is a must)
* frequend flods and large water/mud pools (get thick shoes)
* few sidewalks
* motobikes run counter-traffic on the sides
* air polution along major arteries

The trick is to use the maze of internal alleys from mosque to mosque. Complicated but safer, cleaner, quieter.

40 carlospln August 21, 2017 at 6:09 pm

You forgot to mention the lead in petrol.

Great for CNS function!

41 Aretino August 21, 2017 at 12:50 pm

Brasil used to be very walkable before everyone bought a car.

42 Michael August 21, 2017 at 5:35 pm

I’m still a little confused as to why “walkability” is considered an unalloyed virtue. It seems to me, being able to walk a town is a true benefit only to those who drink too much, and rarely cook at home. Is there any other cohort for whom “walkability” is universally a positive?

43 Roy LC August 21, 2017 at 10:02 pm

On walkability and America.

In “The Magic Lantern”, his memior, Ingmar Bergman wrote about this issue:

As the apartment would not be free until September, we returned to Los Angeles to
spend the summer there. The heat wave of the century had struck California. We arrived
two days before midsummer and sat in the tomblike air-conditioned chill, watching
boxing on television. We tried walking to a nearby movie theatre in the evening, and the
heat hit us like a falling concrete wall. The next morning, Barbra Streisand telephoned and asked us whether we would like to
bring our bathing gear with us for a little party by the pool. I thanked her, put down the
receiver, turned to Ingrid and said: ‘Let’s go back home to Faro at once and spend the
summer there. We’ll just have to put up with the scorn and the laughter.’

A few hours later we were on our way.

We arrived in Stockholm on Midsummer Eve. Ingrid phoned her father, who had
gathered together friends and relations on his farm near Norrtalje. He insisted that we
come at once. It was past eleven o ‘clock and a mild evening, everything at its most beautiful and
fragrant. And then the Swedish light!

Towards morning, I was lying in a white bed in a room that smelt of summer house
and newly scrubbed wooden floor. Outside the window was a tall birch, its shadow
drawing a swaying pattern on the light-coloured blind, rustling, whispering and
whispering.

The long journey fell away, the catastrophe of my life was a dream someone else had
dreamt

44 Butler T. Reynolds August 22, 2017 at 7:15 am

For David Brooks’ Bobos, walkability is like a suntan. A luxury.

45 dont matter August 22, 2017 at 8:45 am

….dripping in selection bias….

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