Overview of Walking Rates, Walking Safety, and Government Policies to Encourage More and Safer Walking in Europe and North America

Key Takeaways:

  • The United States has one of the lowest rates of walking as a percentage of all trips (12 percent), compared to the United Kingdom which has the highest (26 percent).
  • While countries like Canada, Denmark, and the Netherlands have experienced declines in pedestrian fatality rates, the US is an outlier, as pedestrian fatality rates (pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 population) have risen 25 percent from 2010 to 2020.
  • Compared to peer countries, the United States has the most variation among its major cities in rates of walking to work, with some cities walking rates being six times higher than others. For example, 13 percent of Washington D.C. residents walk to work whereas Houston residents only walk to work 2 percent of the time.
  • People are more likely to choose walking as a mode of travel when they are in the innermost city center and when the distance is less than one mile.
  • Walking rates remain roughly stable with increasing age in the US, although at the relatively low rate of 12% of trips percent. In peer countries, walking trips are higher in youth (<16) and older adults (60+), but decline in the middle age group.
  • Western European countries such as the UK, Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands have narrower roadways; overall lower speed limits; slower turn speeds as well as turn restrictions; and lower traffic volumes than the US.
  • Traffic calming in residential streets is much more common in European cities than U.S. cities. Some cities in Denmark and Germany have designated some residential streets as home zones with speed limits of only 4.5 mph. In-home zones, drivers must yield to pedestrians, cyclists, and children playing in the street, thus fully sharing the street with them.
  • Schools in the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany offer traffic education as a part of their curriculum, and by fourth grade, children have taken practical training in safe walking and bicycling skills.
  • One mile is a reasonable distance to travel. Schools should encourage kids within a mile radius of school to walk to school.


  • Policies that support youth bike and pedestrian education, as well as community design that prioritizes safety for people walking and biking impact overall population rates of active transportation and reduce pedestrian fatalities.


  • This study looked at several countries in Europe and the United States and using travel surveys like the National Household Travel Survey (NHTS) compared walking travel patterns among the different countries.
  • Researchers also explored the factors that may influence walking levels such as transport policy and land use by examining regulatory policy from the US, UK, Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands.


Buehler, Ralph, and John Pucher. “Overview of Walking Rates, Walking Safety, and Government Policies to Encourage More and Safer Walking in Europe and North America.” Sustainability 15, no. 7 (January 2023): 5719. https://doi.org/10.3390/su15075719.

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