The daily commute

What if we all walked to work?

It's Walk to Work Day, but what would Britain be like if we all passed up road and rail for the humble pavement? Steve Tomkins ponders the potential consequences of letting our legs do all the work.

Planes, trains and automobiles. Most people's commute to work features at least one of these forms of transport - possibly all three for some. But it doesn't have to be this way, according to the pedestrian campaign group Living Streets - organisers of Walk to Work Day.

Our belief in motorised transport is somewhat dented when you consider that, in central London, for example, there are 109 journeys between Tube stations that are quicker to walk (taking into account time spent waiting for trains).

Campaigners say if you'd walked to work today it would have helped (1) improve congestion, parking, air quality, health, noise and the local economy - apparently pedestrians are "more likely to shop locally".

You might think you live too far away but you could be wrong, says Lucy Abell, from Living Streets (who gets a bus and then walks to the office).

"A lot of journeys are quicker to walk and people often underestimate length of rail journeys," she says. "They don't include all the time spent walking to and from stations, queuing for tickets, delays."

So there's plenty to be said for taking to the pavement, but what would life be like if we all walked to work?


There are advantages and disadvantages to a commuting society, says Professor Glen Lyons from the Centre for Transport & Society in Bristol (drives 65 miles to work, but works two days a week from home).

His research shows that one in 10 workers spends at least two hours a day commuting, risking health problems from cardio-vascular disease to depression.

"So if we all lived close enough (2) to walk to work, it would be good for our health," he says. "On the other hand, being able to commute long distances makes for more mobility in the employment market. We can change jobs more easily and make more flexible working arrangements."

Living closer to where we work would also mean compromises in other areas of our lives, he points out.

"It's a trade off. We have to balance the journey to work against house prices, the quality of the neighbourhood, being near family and friends. Moving to be near to the workplace might disrupt the family network."

If we all walked to work, we'd potentially be a bit richer since UK families spend an average of 17% of their budget on transport, according to the UK Statistics Authority.

But we'd probably be less well informed: 80% of commuters read a newspaper according to research the Centre for Transport and Society - or to be precise have a newspaper, though presumably most of them get read.

Additionally, 28% work while going to and from the office, 11% talk to other passengers and 20% sleep. More surprisingly - and alarmingly - a study by Eric Laurier of Glasgow University found that car drivers often use part of their journey "to check up on paperwork".


These are all things rather harder to do on foot. But that's the point, according Ken, a social worker in London who has a 15-minute walk to work.

"It's the only time in the day I do nothing at all. Just walk and think. It's an oasis. I don't know what I'd do without it.”

What else would be different? Walking to work could present quite serious logistical problems for builders, for example. Away matches would be trickier for footballers. Waterproofs would presumably sell better.

Other differences go rather deeper. Would public transport exist at all if no one used it for work?
Take away the billions of pounds that commuters spend on public transport each year - and the subsidies the government offers to make sure people can get to work - and what would be left for those of us who want to meet up with friends, see the sights or go shopping?

And would we have suburbs if everybody walked to work? We might not think we'd miss them, suburbia doesn't have great PR and most of us who live there would probably like to be in a more close-knit community.

But if we go back to the time before cars and trains allowed people to live in one place and work in another, what do we see? The 19th Century city, where urban workers were crammed into city dwellings in unenviable conditions. Or the medieval village where life was a bit quiet and basic for most of our tastes; a little too closely knit.

Still, the organisers of Walk to Work say many more of us than now do, could manage to commute on foot, without bringing civilisation to its knees. If you're reading this at work, though, and it's the first you've heard of it, I'm sure you could adapt the event to Walk Back from Work Day.

Source: BBC News

(1) 3rd conditional : if + had + past perfect, would + have + present perfect
We use this conditional to talk about things in the past happening differently from the way they really happened. This sometimes means : 1. criticizing people, 2. pointing out their mistakes or
3. expressing regret about the past.
eg if you had told me you were having difficulties, I would have helped you.

(2) enough + nouns but adjectives + enough
eg We don't have enough time to finish everything on time.
eg Are you warm enough? I'm feeling a bit cold.

What do you think of the idea? Would it be possible to walk part of your journey to work? How do you commute to work and what are the alternatives you have?