“Walkability scores” have permeated real estate in recent years, as Americans make the gradual, glacial, oceanlineresque turn toward a less car-centered lifestyle. But our onboard pedometer is not impressed. A new study of walking patterns shows that the brain is counting steps, and that its motto is: Less is best.
It’s a simple, real-life study: Researchers monitored walking patterns in shoppers as they navigated mall walkways, both in China and the U.S. They tallied the turns people took, and the evasive maneuvers they made when on a collision course with a fellow human.
There was no spooky tendency for humans turn right when faced with a choice.
There was a strong tendency for humans to keep right in the U.S and mainland China; and to keep left in Hong Kong, presumably due to habits acquired while driving.
And there was a strong tendency among all humans to conserve energy.
When people encountered an obstacle took the minimum number of steps possible to avoid collision.
And that is the problem with “walkability.” We inhabit bodies that have spent hundreds of millions of years honing their efficiency for life in a world where acquiring calories was a treacherous undertaking. We’re good at saving calories. It’s a no-brainer. Hence, a walkable neighborhood is only as good as the walker’s motivation.