Fewer trips, longer distances: how walking habits changed in 2020

(Owen Humphreys/PA) (PA Archive)

People in England walked an average of 220 miles last year, the furthest since current records began, although the number of journeys made on foot fell compared with 2019 as lockdown restrictions led to major changes in travel habits.

While people clocked up the most miles since the start of records in 2002, the average number of trips dropped by 5%, from 250 per person in 2019 to 236 in 2020.

The number of walking “stages”, where someone walks as part of an overall trip – for example, going to the bus stop to catch a bus to work – fell by 16%, from 332 per person to 281.

The figures, published by the Department for Transport (DfT), show how travel last year was “considerably impacted” by the coronavirus pandemic, in particular the restrictions introduced in March.

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During this first lockdown, people were required by law to stay at home except to shop for basic necessities, travel to work if it was not possible to work from home, and for medical needs.

“One form of exercise a day” was permitted, “for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household”.

Some restrictions were eased in the summer but the recommendation to work from home remained in place for much of the year, while various rules were reintroduced in the autumn when the second wave of the virus began.

The restrictions are reflected in the DfT figures, which show the number of walking “stages” for utility purposes – to get to a place of work or education, for example – fell by 42% in 2020 compared with 2019, while walking stages for leisure increased by 9%.

The number of walking stages over a mile jumped by 26%, while walking trips – when the walking stage is also the longest part of the journey on foot – rose by 34%.

A similar trend was seen in cycling. The average number of miles increased by 62% to the highest levels since records began 2002, from 54 miles per person in 2019 to 88 miles in 2020.

The number of cycling trips jumped by 26% from 16 per person to 20.

The total number of stages cycled rose from 964 million to 1.2 billion.

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