New research suggests that many people may be put off from walking or cycling to work because they think it is too far, when in fact most of us overestimate how long it will take.
Researchers at Penn State University in the United States recruited 253 faculty and staff and 252 students at at the university for the study and questioned them on how often they drove, took the bus, walked, or biked to campus.
Participants were also asked how they felt about walking or biking instead of taking the car, sometimes referred to as “active travel,” how physically fit they were, and how long they thought it would take them to walk or bike from their home to campus.
The researchers then calculated the actual travel times using Google Maps.
They found that around 91 percent of the staff and students misestimated how long it would take to walk to campus, and around 93 percent misestimated how long it would take to cycle, with almost everyone overestimating the travel time.
Students were a little better at staff in estimating travel times, but around 55 percent were still incorrect about walking times, while around 43 percent misestimated cycling times.
“People in general aren’t very good at estimating how long it’s going to take to get somewhere,” said Melissa Bopp, associate professor of kinesiology, Penn State. “That’s problematic when you’re trying to get someone to walk or bike somewhere. Traveling by foot or bike has a lot of benefits, but not a lot of people do it. They may think they can’t do it because it’s too far and it’ll take too long, when it turns out it’s really not.”
“For example, people who aren’t familiar with walk or bike travel tend to assume you use the same route you would drive, which might be along a busy road,” explained Bopp. “Meanwhile, in actuality, there’s a perfectly lovely bike path that only crosses that busy road once. That’s a knowledge gap we can fix.”
Despite the many advantages of active travel, such as better health and less air pollution, more than 90 percent of Americans drive a car to work according to the researchers, with Bopp adding that learning more about why people don’t walk or bike more often will help to encourage more people to start.
In addition, she said increasing self-confidence could also boost the number of people choosing active travel over taking the car.
“For faculty and staff, self-confidence for walking and biking in town or on campus was a huge predictor,” Bopp said. “We can have all the bike lanes in the world, but if you don’t feel confident to go out there and bike, then you’re not going to do it. But luckily, self-confidence is a targetable thing. Providing education, encouragement and resources can help with that. There are urban biking classes you can take, for example.”
The results can be found published online in the journal Tranportmetrica A: Transport Science. JB