Walking is for the Rich

The Elizabeth Bruyere Research Institute and Cdn Institute for Health Research have done a study on walkability in Ottawa, with a special focus on older people. Here is the title of the study; interested persons are advised to read the whole thing and not just the excerpted bits that follow:



In general, I would have expected pre-1945 neighborhoods, with sidewalks on most streets and nearby stores, to have been more walkable than suburban areas where distances discourage walking and retail is auto-oriented. And I would have thought that most downtown neighborhoods would rate similarly.

I was wrong. Very wrong.

The study was conducted by Theresa Grant, a post-doc. She studied the neighborhood differences of urban form and socio-economic status (SES) and how they affected walkability. She selected four neighborhoods. When looking at the four neighborhoods in the chart below, guess which neighborhood is which. And whether your neighborhood is one of them:

Just to be clear, she has selected a rich and poor inner city neighborhood, and a rich and a poor suburban neighborhood. In the table below are the characteristics of each neighborhood, with respect to the percentage of seniors, the number of well educated people, the average household income, and the percentage of households below the low-income cut-off line (a commonly used proxy for “poor”):


While the numbers of seniors was roughly the same for all four neighborhoods, the other factors varied dramatically. Despite claims that people like diversity and mixed-income neighborhoods, in practice they sort themselves out by educational attainment and income. Look at the two inner-city neighborhoods, which are adjacent each other, where the lower SES neighborhood has less than half the income of the richer.

And especially notice the similarity of the inner city rich to the suburban rich, and the distinct shortage of LICO households in the richest areas, including the fabled diverse inner-city areas. (If I may hazard an opinion, not researched in this study, many of the low income households in the rich areas will be students (educated but temporarily lower income) or middle class retirees who have lower income but substantial assets such as real estate. There are differences even amongst being poor.)

So have you made your guesses as to which neighborhood is which?

For the inner-city areas, the rich are in the Glebe, the poor are in old Dalhousie Ward, coyly named West Centretown on the map above. For the post-war suburban form of urban area, the rich are in Beaverbrook and the poor in Carlington. Carlington includes the neighborhoods south of the Queensway and Carling Avenue, south of Westgate mall, and east of Fisher and including both sides of old Merivale Road before one gets to the experimental farm.

In the chart below, the key urban form differences are noted, and low and behold, the advantages and disadvantages of urban form were positive in higher SES neighborhoods and accented negatively in the lower income SES:


So lets see what Dr Grant found out in some detail. As the chart below shows, your odds of being run over by a motor vehicle varies with income. In the chart, the safe Glebe is column 1, dangerous Dalhousie is column 2; and the relationship holds true for Beaverbrook in column 3 vs Carlington in column 4. In short, lower income people are twice as likely to be run over as the rich.



So, why are the rich more likely to live to walk another day, and the poor more likely to go splat? One of the reasons is that the Glebe and Beaverbrook have fewer trucks. For some reason, trucks seem to be directed by the city to drive through low income neighborhoods but not the rich ones. (Possibly a coincidence?)

The urban form is a key factor in whether or not there are truck routes in your neighborhood. I suspect there is also political activism that helps keep trucks away. Are there other factors at work here that make the lets the rich pedestrian have a richer longer life than the poor unfortunates who comprise my neighbours?

In the chart above, it shows the Glebe vs Dalhousie for the inner city; and Beaverbrook vs Carlington for the post-war suburban form. The volume of car traffic does not seem to be a large factor in the longevity of Glebites and Dalhousians. But it suggests that it is for the more suburban form, where presumably traffic goes faster and of course, your odds of being killed increase dramatically with speed.

So its better to be a poor pedestrian in the inner city than in the inner suburbs.

Where you can walk also plays a factor. In the chart below, the Glebe (column 1) has wa-a-a-a-y more park space than Dalhousie; and Beaverbrook dwarfs Carlington.


It has been an uphill battle to get more park space for inner city neighborhoods, because the land is so valuable. In Dalhousie, we are in the process of scoring one victory for parks over roads by expanding Elm Street park to take over a bit of the Elm Street roadway itself.

Surprisingly more difficult has been trying to get reasonable pedestrian amenities along the new north-south mulitpurpose path along the O-Train (construction starts in July). It has been necessary to continually remind city staff that the path will be used by little old ladies with yappy dogs, parents with kids in strollers, etc and not just lycra-clad commuter cyclists zooming from one end of the path to the other. Calls for park benches (or even boulders to sit on), resting areas, and runabout areas are usually met with blank stares. “It’s not a park,” they say, “it’s a path.”

I guess paths are another preserve of the rich. Who knew they are such status symbols?

The conclusion of the study?   There is

  • an inequitable distribuion of walking conditions,
  • that these impact pedestrian safety, and
  • there is an associated socio-political process driving these differences.

Or, as the title of this post puts it: walking is for the rich, and the data is out to prove it.

And lastly, the study identified some factors that the elderly find particularly useful. Recall, please, that to travel across the city on the transitway/LRT can take some considerable time for the end-to-end trip. And that the very young, and the ageing population, might appreciate the occasional pit stop. But our ever-frugal LRT stations will not have washrooms (which don’t have to be in all stations, but just in certain key ones). We are saving money by not extending sewer connections to the stations. Which means most can never be staffed, or have convenience stores, etc. where staff needs washrooms let alone the travelling public. I do hope they have thick plantings of shrubbery outside the station entrances.


6 thoughts on “Walking is for the Rich

  1. Interesting, but could it be that cause & effect are backwards in the analysis, at least partially?
    E.g. the Glebe has all these nice amenities, which makes it more desirable to prospective home buyers (or renters), which over time drives the price up at a higher rate, which in turns excludes lower incomes. Granted I didn’t read the full paper, but that’s gotta be a significant factor?

  2. One minor quibble about park space – yes the Glebe does have more but Lansdowne (40 acres) is considered a “park”, and all of the NCC greenspace, which surrounds the Glebe, ratehr than being a part of the fabric, is also responsible for that park area.

    1. I agree the lines on these maps could redrawn and the results would be completely different. You could easily include Commissionaire’s Park around Dows Lake in the Dalhousie Ward and they would completely change the results. I live in the Panhandle (west side of O-Train) and while there remains some low income folk in there that is and will be rapidly changing.

  3. I would quibble with comparing Beaverbrook with Carlington. I would compare Carlington to Highland park as a similar inner suburb location but high SES. I would compare Beaverbrook to Bells Corners as similarly located neighbourhood but lower SES. Carlington is on a grid pattern while Beaverbrook isn’t. That would be sure to have an effect on the cut through traffic and accidents. Carlington has the busy Merivale road running through the middle of it while Beaverbrook has all the busy commercial roads on the periphery, Even Teron isn’t that busy.

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