Long-distance walking: a wildcard of mobility futures?

Farzaneh Bahrami
Urban Design and Mobility, Faculty of Spatial Sciences, University of Groningen, Netherlands


  • Simon Cook, Sr Lecturer, Faculty of Health, Education and Life Sciences, Birmingham City University, UK


Walking as a mode of transport is important but generally considered as a shorter-distance solution, logic built into urban form, transport systems and related policies. This is limiting. Long-distance walking occurs and is significant for sustainable mobility futures. However, it is poorly understood and often considered as falling outside of transport altogether, related instead to less-utilitarian spheres, such as leisure. This project will rectify this, exploring conceptualisations and practices of long-distance walking to better understand its potential as a mode of transport.
In doing so, the project questions current limits and standards of “walking distance” in planning and policy schemes. Acceptable and preferred walking distances vary by destination, purpose, and within different spatial contexts and cultures of mobility. We used to walk much longer distances than we do today. What has changed and is it possible to envision mobility futures where walking distances are significantly longer once again? What impacts would this have?
To answer these questions, this project will draw together new, in-progress, and existing research from around the world. Specifically, we will undertake:

  1. An international, interdisciplinary literature review, synthesing conceptual and empirical work on long-distance walking and the notion of “walking distance” from the fields of transport and mobility studies, architecture and urbanism, literary and cultural history, and sport and leisure.
  2. Place-based surveys and walking interviews in Rotterdam (NL) and Birmingham (UK) to understand the perception, practices and potential of long-distance walking.
  3. Comparative analysis between case studies and other in-progress research, leading to new knowledge, theorisations and policy recommendations.
  4. Dissemination and outreach work with research, policy and practice communities.
    This project challenges core understandings of walking as a mode of transport. As a wildcard of mobility futures, rethinking and researching long-distance walking is vital to support this niche practice to become a breakthrough for future cities and transport.