Walking is apparently the least stressful mode of travel (at least in Montreal, anyway), according to new research from McGill University. The work found that — out of all the various ways that someone can travel — the majority of the 4,000 subjects of the study thought that walking, even during the dead cold of the Montreal winter, was still less stressful than driving, biking, or taking public transit.
Second behind walking with regard to commute stress was traveling by public transit — interestingly, even those that utilized public transit thought that the walking portion of the commute was the least stressful. That’s no real surprise of course. Walking is the “natural” mode of transportation for people, why wouldn’t it feel completely right? Another interesting thing to note is that the variations in associated stress seem to match up quite clearly with the necessity to follow the patterns/schedules/actions of others — in other words, the more freedom of action present, the less stress, apparently.
The new work — which was published in the journal Transportation Research — relied solely on the opinions of 4000 subjects who commuted to work or school at McGill University, though, so perhaps the findings aren’t as broadly applicable as one might assume. After all, I can say from personal experience that walking in Montreal is considerably more pleasant than walking in a place like Los Angeles, for instance — or Dallas, for that matter.
Travel via public transportation is a similar situation — when living in a city/region with good options (via rail, subway, bus, canal boat, etc), it’s an easy choice to utilize what’s available. In places with “poor” public transportation, on the other hand… it can really be quite needlessly stressful to utilize public transportation, which certainly explains why those that ride public transportation in such areas do so simply because they have no other decent options (and need to get to work, school, etc).
The real takeaway of the work, in my opinion, is that aiming to design cities so that walking is easy, natural feeling, and commonplace could probably do quite a lot (with regard to cost effectiveness) to improve the mental health of the general public. Who wouldn’t want to live somewhere where everything needed was within walking distance?