Top 12 College Towns for Commuting on Foot

By    August 13, 2014

Ithaca NY

On his several-days-a-week walks to and from work in Ithaca, NY, Tom Knipe breathes in the scent of lavender plants during temperate months. Along his ¾-mile route between work and home, Knipe also spots creatures like otters, mink, turtles, ducks and heron. Or he stops to chat with friends and neighbors. During the winter, Knipe notices the “beautiful” changes in the ice patterns in Cascadilla Creek as the water freezes and thaws.

“I typically walk when the weather makes it uncomfortable or less practical to ride my bike. So, during the winter months when there is lots of snow on the ground, I tend to walk to work on average three out of five days a week,” said Knipe, the tourism coordinator for Tompkins County, NY.

In Ithaca, a college town with about 30,000 residents in upstate New York’s Finger Lakes region, Knipe is part of an army of walkers. Ithaca, the home of Cornell University and Ithaca College, ranks first among U.S. college towns for the percentage of workers who commute on foot, according to the U.S. Census Bureau analyzed by The SpareFoot Blog. It also leads the American Institute for Economic Research’s list of the top college towns in the U.S.

Cornell University

More than 20,000 students attend Cornell University in Ithaca, NY.

“Most places in Ithaca you would ever need to go are within walking or biking distance, although sometimes you’ll have to face some pretty nasty hills,” according to Business Insider.

Like many of his Ithaca neighbors, Knipe realizes several benefits from hoofing it to and from work. Of course, a key benefit is exercise, along with stress reduction. A study published this year in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity found that weekday physical activity was 45 percent higher for employees in southwest England who walked to work compared with those who commuted by car.

An additional benefit: Knipe and other on-foot commuters save money by buying less gas for their cars, and less driving helps reduce air pollution. But for Knipe, it goes deeper than that.

“When I walk, I embrace the whole environment as an experience to have as I’m getting from A to B. The journey actually calms me and makes me friendlier,” Knipe said. “That feeling carries over into the office or into my home, so my co-workers and spouse and kids also probably benefit from my choice to walk.”

Here is SpareFoot’s list of the 12 college towns where a significant percentage of commuters benefit greatly from the choice to walk.

Ithaca

Ithaca, NY, is easy to navigate by foot or bicycle.

1. Ithaca, NY
Percentage of workers who walk to work: 42.4 percent
City population: 30,331
Major school: Cornell University
Cornell University enrollment: 21,131

2. Athens, OH
Percentage of workers who walk to work: 36.8 percent
City population: 23,755
Major school: Ohio University
Ohio University enrollment: 22,657

3. State College, PA
Percentage of workers who walk to work: 36.2 percent
City population: 41,983
Major school: Pennsylvania State University
Pennsylvania State University enrollment: 45,518

4. Chicago, IL (North Side)
Percentage of workers who walk to work: 32.2 percent
City population: 29,667
Major school: Northeastern Illinois University
Northeastern Illinois University enrollment: 10,821

5. Oxford, OH
Percentage of workers who walk to work: 29.7 percent
City population: 21,351
Major school: Miami University of Ohio
Miami University of Ohio enrollment: 17,720

6. Cambridge, MA
Percentage of workers who walk to work: 24 percent
City population: 106,471
Major school: Harvard University
Harvard University enrollment: 21,000

7. Pullman, WA
Percentage of workers who walk to work: 23.5 percent
City population: 31,359
Major school: Washington State University
Washington State University enrollment: 19,446

8. East Lansing, MI
Percentage of workers who walk to work: 23.3 percent
City population: 41,518
Major school: Michigan State University
Michigan State University enrollment: 49,300

9. College Park, MD
Percentage of workers who walk to work: 21.5 percent
City population: 31,208
Major school: University of Maryland
University of Maryland enrollment: 26,658

10. Burlington, VT
Percentage of workers who walk to work: 20.3 percent
City population: 42,282
Major school: University of Vermont
University of Vermont enrollment: 11,781

11. Moscow, ID
Percentage of workers who walk to work: 20.2 percent
City population: 24,499
Major school: University of Idaho
University of Idaho enrollment: 12,493

12. Morgantown, WV
Percentage of workers who walk to work: 18.2 percent
City population: 31,000
Major school: West Virginia University
West Virginia University enrollment: 29,466

John is editor of The SpareFoot Blog. He first moved to Austin in 1999, when downtown Austin wasn't nearly as lively as it is today. John's loves include pizza, University of Kansas basketball and puns.

  • Heather French Cochran

    Yeah, but have you ever TRIED walking the WSU campus? ALL HILLS, ALL THE TIME. Commute + daily workout = Cougar calves! :)

  • Francisco Aguilar

    I love it… they are known for “Cougar Calves”

  • Jonathan

    Yay! Go Vandals! Moscow is such a beautiful town and the downtown in fall with the farmers market is awesome!

  • Lucky13X

    I guess UT @ Austin, is a bit too big to commute everywhere a college student would go by foot, especially for social activities.

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