How Much Gas Does Walking Burn?

By John Carr, NMA Massachusetts Activist

Should I walk to the grocery store? Sounds like a “green” thing to do.

Except walking burns a lot more gas than driving.

The supermarket, a half mile away, is diagonally across an intersection. I have to press a button to get a walk signal. The button stops all four directions of traffic. I’m still not allowed to cross diagonally.

To obey the law I have to stop all traffic twice, for 25 seconds each time. (I also have to wait a minute between walk signals.) Most of the time I’m the only person crossing.

In rush hour I may delay 40 cars by 25 seconds each time I cross. I caused half a vehicle-hour of delay by crossing the street twice. That’s about $8 worth of time, and probably a dollar worth of gas, and I haven’t walked home yet.

If I drove I would burn less than half as much gas and delay one lane of traffic by two seconds (each way) instead of four lanes by 50 seconds (each way).

That walk button should have a slot where you insert a $5 bill to press during rush hour. Drop the price to a dollar in the middle of the day, and a quarter at night.

I walk anyway. I need the exercise. Fortunately, I don’t always cause $20 worth of traffic disruption to buy $20 worth of groceries.

Remember the factoid from 2007 about a Prius hurting the environment more than a Hummer? That can be true or false depending on your assumptions about how long each type of vehicle lasts, how it is driven, and how much of it is recycled.

If I’m walking outside of rush hour it’s often safe to avoid the signal and cross midblock. Cost to traffic: zero.

If somebody else already pressed the button, I do no additional harm by sharing his walk light. The red light lasts 25 seconds whether there is one of us or 100.

My math also assumes obedience to Newton’s badly designed traffic signals. In most of the country pedestrians can cross parallel to the green light. This is usually better for both pedestrians and drivers. Urban planners in my area prefer conspicuously anti-driver solutions. The proposal to eliminate lanes on a busy road has higher priority than fixing a congested intersection.

In reality I often cross diagonally when the walk light goes on. I also walk parallel to traffic with the green (yielding to vehicles) despite the don’t walk signal.

If pedestrians in my area collectively obeyed the rules we’d have gridlock, the same as if drivers left a two second following distance like they’re supposed to. In labor relations malicious obedience is called “work to rule.”

I can’t order you to break the law or save gas. You’ll have to decide if your conscience allows pedestrianism.

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