Being a San Francisco city pedestrian commuter, I’ve been wondering what’s more common—people walking while listening to music or people walking while holding a coffee cup. I see commuters each day and my curiosity has me asking: has the proliferation of smart phones and ipods made listening to music as essential to the daily commuter as getting that Starbucks coffee before making that last stroll into the office. I, of course, did some research to find out.
As part of my commute each work day, I take the Caltrain near my home to the final stop at 4th Street and King Street in downtown San Francisco (my earlier observations of commuting on the train are here). From there, I’ve decided to walk to the financial district of SF where my office is located—a daily one way walk of about 25 minutes—a great way to get exercise. Here’s a map of my walk with pins for the beginning and end locations.
Now, given my analytical inclination and my iPhone obsession, I decided to use these daily walks to perform a social experiment and measure some urban commuter demographics.
Here’s what I did.
Step 2: Each tally was done at the same time on different days of the week—I’d usually arrive at the Caltrain station around 8:40 and make the walk between 8:40 and 9:10 AM. My route was the same each day, up 3rd Street and ultimately to the office on Sutter Street.
Step 3: I only counted people who I passed, those walking in the other direction. That way I could get a good look at them. I did not count people walking with me in the same direction. Thus, people who were also coming from the train station and making the same walk were not counted.
Step 4: My first count was to count the baseline—how many total people did I pass during my walk. I took the average tally of two walks to serve as the baseline.
Step 5: I then chose a few different activities or characteristics and made my tallies—counting each one twice over the weeks and using the average.
The activities I measured:
- People walking with earphones in their ears
- People walking with a coffee cup or other beverage container in their hand.
- People walking while wearing sunglasses.
- People walking while talking or reading from their phones.
- People walking while smoking.
- People walking while talking to someone else.
My baseline count turned out to be 328 People, 55% Male and 45% Female.
Now, comparing the % of each activity to the baseline, here’s the results:
- People walking with earphones (16%) is as common as many more human needs activities- drinking coffee (14%), talking with others (11%).
- The % of people wearing sunglasses turned out to be the most common at 23% of the baseline (my recordings were all done in the summer).
- More people while walking are using their phones (16%) to listen to music or podcasts than talk on the phone or read content (11%).
- Smoking is not very popular in San Francisco—only 3% of the baseline were smoking ( I don’t smoke, but maybe smokers in general don’t smoke that early in the morning).
- Majority of people are just walking—not listening to music, not talking on the phone, not even holding a coffee cup.
Overall, the answer to my initial question about whether listening to music has become as integral as getting coffee in the morning for urban pedestrian commuters would have to be a Yes!
While of course a small sample size, it seems that people don’t necessarily have to have accompaniments like music or coffee while walking to work, but of those who do, they’re as likely to be listening to music as they are to be drinking coffee or talking to a fellow commuter. This research won’t lead to any Nobel Prizes, but hey, I needed some way to make my morning commute more interesting.
More demographic studies and research to be posted in the upcoming weeks. For example, comparisons of the number of bicycles, vs buses, vs taxis is on my list and even some more creative ones will I’m sure keep you on the edge of your seat in anticipation.