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The Transportation Research Board is meeting in D.C. this week, bringing 11,000 transportation nerds to three hotels over five days and hundreds of scintillating agenda items. Most of the papers being presented are on things I wouldn’t understand, but one caught my eye: A study of pedestrian behavior in the District using 2009 National Household Travel Survey data, breaking down pedestrian, car, and public transit trips by race, age, and income.

The researcher, Jacquelyn Renée Schneider of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California Davis, first made note of the fact that District residents travel more walk and take public transit in D.C. than Americans generally, probably due to the District’s relatively human-scaled and compact neighborhoods. But the numbers differ across demographic groups, most notably race: On average, Schneider found, white people take more trips per day overall, at 4.9 trips to non-whites’ 4.1 trips. For walking trips, they go further, traveling between 0.02 and 0.21 miles more per trip than non-whites. But white people are apparently walking faster, because they also take less time per trip, averaging 12.39 minutes to non-white-peoples’ 14.65 minutes.

Why the differential? Schneider hypothesizes that it could have to do with the fact that whites are more centrally located, and it’s more often convenient to walk. She also guesses, vaguely, that “maybe non-whites take longer to complete pedestrian trips because they are more sensitive to topographical, environmental, health or other related factors impacting speed including their personal liking of travel and opinions about physical exercise.”

I’d also be curious about the impact of crime, though I’m not sure there’s less of it in neighborhoods with more white people. But I do think the first theory comes closest to the truth—-generally speaking, the most heavily African-American areas of the city are also the most suburban (though obviously that also applies to some rich white areas, like the Palisades and Spring Valley). Which just reinforces something we already know: In order to make people walk more, you need to give them things to walk to, not assume that there’s something intrinsic to race that makes people enjoy walking more or less.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery