We all know that walking or other means of active transportation is great for your health, yet it can be difficult to fit exercise into our schedules. But if you think about it, that is because exercise is no longer how we get around! When you live in a walkable neighbourhood or city, just getting from point A to point B might fulfil your daily exercise/movement goal.
And, being able to walk, bike, or use other means of active transportation in order to get around significantly decreases our environmental impact. While personal automobiles burn fossil fuels, therefore contributing to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, getting around by foot leaves zero pollution behind.
So, have you ever found yourself wishing you were able to quantify the walkability or overall environmental friendliness of a city or urban area?
This kind of information can be really useful when it comes to finding a place to live or travel to.
Walkability is also financially advantageous. North American households spend a large percentage of their household income on automobiles. Whether you are getting gas, paying car insurance, going to the mechanic, or paying your licence fee, car owners always seem to be spending money. If we didn’t rely on cars so much, this money could be better used elsewhere.
Years ago, my husband and I both worked downtown and lived (as we still do) within walking distance to those downtown jobs. We would spend 30 minutes in the morning and again in the afternoon walking to and from work - together.
It was a beautiful way to spend time together, and outdoors daily in all seasons.
We loved it, and within a year, we decided to give up our gym memberships. The walks and the other sports (yes, Ultimate frisbees of course!) gave us all of the exercise that we needed. But more than that, we found it to be really grounding, walking home form work allowed us to decompress, and with each step we shed the work stress and by the time we reached our back door, we were full on ready to engage with our beautiful lives outside of work.
It was important for us, and I still miss having that opportunity now that I work from home. But, now I have a little work-around where I will walk towards downtown at the end of the day as my hubby walks home and we meet along the river trail. This outdoor time at the end of our work days is still a significant break from the sitting and screen-time that makes up most of our work days, and is truly special to us.
And of course, walkability helps to make communities safer and more enjoyable. The more people that are out on the street, the less that criminal activity occurs. Additionally, you are way more likely to have social interactions with your neighbours and members of your community when out and about.
How to find the most walkable neighbourhoods
So, now that we are familiar with all the reasons why walkability is desirable, how exactly do we determine if a city is walkable? Of course, you are likely to have an idea of how walkable your current city is based on personal experiences living there, but how can you find out the walkability of places you have never been?
Walk Score is the website for you! Walk Score is a website that allows you to search a city and neighbourhood and find out how it scores in terms of walkability. Through the use of a large-scale, public access walkability index, cities are assigned a numerical walkability score.
This website was created in order to promote walkable neighbourhoods. Josh Herst, the CEO of Walk Score, hopes that Walk Score will one day become a part of every real estate listing so that people can make informed and sustainable decisions about where they want to live. Smart right?
How Walk Score Works
The Walk Score website comes up with three different scores: the walk score, transit score, and bike score.
The walk score is determined by using a patented system that analyzes hundreds of walking routes to nearby amenities in a variety of categories. Points are awarded based on the distance to amenities of different categories. So for example, if there are no grocery stores within a walkable distance, the location’s walkability score might be low, even if there are lots of different amenities around. This is because grocery stores are essential services.
Amenities within a five-minute walk are given the maximum number of points, while the further away an amenity is, the less points it gets. In addition to the proximity of amenities, the walk score also analyzes block lengths and population densities.
The best walk score is 90-100 points which is described as being a “walker’s paradise” meaning that daily errands do not require a car. The worst score is 0-24 which is described as being “car-dependent” meaning that almost all errands require a car. Scores in between range from somewhat walkable to very walkable.
Similar to the walk score, the transit score determines how well a location is served by public transit. This score is determined based on data released by public transit agencies in the area. The scores are based on how useful the different routes are. This usefulness translates to
The rating scheme is the same as the one for walkability.
The bike score measures how good an area is for biking. Bike scores are calculated by analyzing
These scores are based on data from the USGS, Open Street Map, and for the United States, the U.S. Census.
The highest bike score is 90-100, meaning that daily errands can be accomplished on a bike, while the lowest score is 0-49, which means there is minimal bike infrastructure present.
However, it is important to keep in mind that Walk Score isn’t the be all and end all for determining the walkability of a city. In fact, there are some issues associated with the website that have been identified by professional urban planners. For example, Walk Scores don’t factor in whether sidewalks are present or differentiate between different types of amenities.
So, of course take these scores with a grain of salt and consult with other resources or even people living in the city you are interested in so that you can hear some other perspectives. But, it is a great starting point and something that we should all consider, especially when relocating to a new neighbourhood or city.
In fact, the public infrastructure available to us in our environments largely dictate how easily we can live active and sustainable lives on a daily basis. So, it is well worth spending time considering.
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