July 24, 2007

Quantifying neighborhood walkability

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at July 24, 2007 5:26 PM

Here's a site (via Lifehacker) that calculates a walkability score for a given address. I grew up in the suburbs and didn't appreciate the convenience of being able to walk everywhere until I moved into my current apartment (which scores 82 out of 100). I've come to like it so much that, when I next move, I will try to look exclusively at walkable neighborhoods.

One sees walkability being increasingly advocated as a goal in urban planning policy, often for the environmental benefits. Indeed, it's almost certainly true that I have a much lower carbon footprint than I used to—on a typical week I only make one or two trips by car, and most of the time I don't need mass transit either. To me personally (rather than on a policy level), however, this is a secondary benefit. (Although the gasoline savings are nice.) The reasons I prefer walkability are more tangible:

  • Accessibility and convenience: if I need something from the grocery store or the pharmacy I can get it and be back within ten minutes.
  • Social connectedness: while out walking I frequently run into friends and neighbors (and, once, a long-lost friend from high school, although I embarrassingly failed to recognize her).
  • Exercise and fresh air: my baseline level of fitness (i.e. when I'm not running regularly) is much higher than it was when I used to drive everywhere. And walking around is just a nicer experience than being in a car (especially in sunny California).

I don't mean to claim that everyone should immediately move to a walkable neighborhood—there's something to be said for the personal space and privacy that comes with suburban living. But I was surprised at how much walkability improved my own quality of life, and I think it's definitely something policymakers should place an increasing importance on.

I calculated the Walk Score of some of my past addresses to get a sense of how the scale works; here they are by city (but calculated for the specific address I lived at):

  • Berkeley, CA (current address): 82
  • El Cerrito, CA: 63
  • Kensington, CA: 45
  • Pasadena, CA: 63
  • New Canaan, CT: 0

Calculate your own score, and let me know if you're in a particularly walkable neighborhood—I may want to move there.

Tags: Berkeley, Life

This is really interesting. Unfortunately, it seems to take a long time to calculate the score. It found where I live on the map, but no score yet (it's been about 5 minutes.) Did it take long to figure yours?

Posted by: Susan | July 24, 2007 6:05 PM

It took under a minute to calculate for me. When I first tried it, it seemed to get stuck on calculating for quite a while (maybe it's under a heavy load). It worked properly when I tried again a few minutes later, so you might try that.

Posted by: Arcane Gazebo | July 24, 2007 6:08 PM

I just did mine and it took something like 15 seconds.

The walkability score of my current address in Pasadena is 85 and that of my future place in Oxford is 71. (Note that I'll have an excellent bus service in the new place, so I'll be able to get farther afield pretty easily.) Oxford in general got a 75.

In terms of my current place, it's worth remarking that walkability is an extremely important feature for me when I choose where to live, and I chose my present location in Pasadena---which allows me to get to either the center of Old Pas or the Caltech campus in minutes---with the explicit purpose of maximizing walkability (though without the formal scoring of the website you mentioned)

Posted by: Mason | July 24, 2007 6:12 PM

Mine was pretty quick. 82 for my address in Hollywood. Which is ironic, since I use my car all the time to get to work and the theatre.

Posted by: Josh | July 24, 2007 8:57 PM

I calculated mine. My walkability is equal to my address. "What number are we thinking of right now?"

Oh, and I calculated J&L's while I was at it, and it was unsurprisingly higher, at 84.

Susan: They're only allowed so many Google Maps requests per day (hour? some other period?) If you wait a day or so, or wait until late in the evening, it should work fine.

Posted by: Lemming | July 24, 2007 9:15 PM

If I may guess the number, Lemming...

"69, dudes!"

Posted by: Lemming | July 24, 2007 9:26 PM

Did I just unconsciously sign my comment with your name, Lemming? That was stupid of me.

Posted by: Josh | July 24, 2007 10:25 PM

I actually thought you did it on purpose, so that you were answering the question as Lemming's future self as per the quote's original source.

Posted by: Arcane Gazebo | July 24, 2007 10:31 PM

I should have stuck with that explanation!

Posted by: Josh | July 24, 2007 10:40 PM

Current Baltimore Address: 86
Work Address in Baltimore: 52

Old addresses, from newest to oldest:

Burlingame: 86
Menlo Park: 88
San Francisco: 75
Pasadena(off, off, off on Del Mar): 68
Parent's house: 25

Posted by: jwadams | July 25, 2007 7:46 AM

Current address- 20. But this is Texas. Walking is considered an act bordering on treason. People will change lanes in their Hummers if they think they have a shot at a pedestrian.

Posted by: JSpur | July 25, 2007 8:08 AM

"Only a nobody walks in... umm, Texas." Nope, I'm afraid that doesn't work. But maybe if the destination were known...

Hmmm... maybe Lemming is the only one with even a chance to get the above? Ah well.

Posted by: Mason | July 25, 2007 8:11 AM

I win! I have clearly improved over my Connecticut suburban hometown score (which I share with Travis).

Home in NY, NY = 100
Work in NY, NY = 100
Old address in LA = 85
Old address in Evanston, IL = 85
Hometown in CT = 0

This just proves that LA doesn't have to be a motor city -- lots of LA addresses score high on walkability.

Fun site -- thanks for the link Travis.

Posted by: Annika | July 25, 2007 9:53 AM

My old address in downtown Oakland scored a 95.

My present location in DC scored 86; I would rank it higher--there seems to be very little data for points further east of me.

Bristol seems to score in the 80s, but having been there, I can tell the google listings aren't very good!

Posted by: Wren | July 25, 2007 11:07 AM

Danbury, CT, surprsingly, scores a 3. Honestly, I think lack of sidewalks should cause a negative rating.

Posted by: Wren | July 25, 2007 11:09 AM

Most recent to oldest.

Current house Wilton - 0 (though sharon and i have walk to ice cream we were thought insane for it)

Old House Lane Norwalk CT - 35 (not shocking i did walk to the sandwich shop on route 1 many times)

old apartment Stamford CT - 86 (no shock i alway walked to grocery down town...)

RPI Troy NY - 52 (College was walkable)

My Folks New Canaan CT - 0 (What a shock. my folks house bad walkabilty good sledding)

Posted by: shellock | July 25, 2007 11:50 AM

I thought my 77 in Pasadena was high, but a lot of you are even better off.

Hmm, our old place out in Aptos gets a 71 - that's a bit nuts (the Safeway shopping center was at the outer edge of walkability; nothing else noteworthy within range). My first place in Santa Cruz gets a 63, which is also nuts.

It does get extreme cases right, though - my mom's house way out in the boonies above Scotts Valley gets a 2 (which still seems a bit high, but as Wren notes they don't go negative).

Ah, I see, they rate 70+ as walkable, that makes more sense.

Posted by: Justin | July 25, 2007 11:51 AM

Annika, are you an NWU alum as well? I'm surprised Evanston gets that high a rating... except Al's Deli is good for 50 points I imagine.

Posted by: Josh | July 25, 2007 12:17 PM

I am unsurprised by the perfect scores for NYC, it's supposed to be one of the most walkable cities. There was a Matt Yglesias post recently where he complained that a city as walkable as NY should be located in Southern California where the weather is more conducive to it.

Meanwhile, I am impressed that Jonathan did better on the Peninsula than in SF proper.

Posted by: Arcane Gazebo | July 25, 2007 3:00 PM

My current address is a 46. I'm not surprised at all; I only walk to a nearby Vons (where I only buy emergency groceries) and Rite-Aid. I've never walked to many of the listed stores because I find it extremely unpleasant to walk on a dubious sidewalk next to cars going 60mph. The area I'd like to move to in uptown San Diego gets a 91. The downside is that it's a significantly longer drive to work.

My parents' house is a 26. I second Wren's request that areas without sidewalks should be given negative points. The street my parents live on has no sidewalks and a 45mph speed limit (read: people are doing 60, of course).

Posted by: Jolene | July 25, 2007 4:10 PM

It finally gave me a score of about 58, I think -- it finished calculating the score late last night but I was half asleep and can't remember exactly. I'm in Rock Hill, SC -- this is a new location for me, and I walk a lot in the area. So it's pretty walkable as afr as I'm concerned. It'll be even better when they open another grocery store nearby to replace the one a half mile away that closed right before I moved here :(

I agree that Google maps are somewhat out of date, but it's a lot to keep up with, I suppose ;)

Posted by: Susan | July 25, 2007 7:54 PM

For whatever reason, our place now gets an 83, instead of Lemming's reported 84.

My parents' place in Michigan gets a 6, which is totally deserved. There is a corner market down the street and nothing else for another mile, although I once walked the 3 miles to the community college nearby. In a blizzard (but only uphill one way, sadly).

Posted by: Lanth | July 25, 2007 7:56 PM

Oh, and they have a blurb on the limits of their algorithm that touches on the sidewalk issue, among others:
How It Doesn't Work

Posted by: Anonymous | July 25, 2007 8:00 PM
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