What’s Your Walk Score?

Here’s a website worth checking out if you own a good pair of shoes and don’t mind using them once in a while. It’s called Walk Score and it gauges the pedestrian-friendliness of locations.

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Type in any address or pair of cross streets in the U.S. (or Europe for that matter), and the site maps the area and plots the nearby recreational, commercial, cultural, and social amenities. Even better, for the quantitatively inclined, it assigns each location a walk score on a 0 to 100 scale.

The site doesn’t take weather, safety, topography (e.g. hills), or the characteristics of the street network into account. (To their credit, the site’s creators cheerfully admit to these shortcomings.) But in all, the walk scores are pretty much what you’d intuitively expect, providing a degree of confidence the site is getting it right. Here’s a sampling:

Barack Obama‘s current residence (Washington, D.C.) — 97
George Bush‘s current secondary residence (Crawford, Tex.) — 0
Bill Gates‘s house (Medina, Wash.) — 11
Stone Pony rock club (Asbury Park, N.J.) — 75
Graceland (Memphis, Tenn.) — 42
Neverland Ranch (Los Olivos, CA) — 0
“Friends” apartment building (West Village, Manhattan, New York City) — 98
Brad Pitt & Jennifer Anniston’s former home (Beverly Hills, Calif.) — 28
Penny Lane (Liverpool, U.K.) — 71
3 Abbey Road (St. John’s Wood, London, U.K.) — 73
Boardwalk & St. James Place (Atlantic City, N.J.) — 89
Dubner‘s place (Manhattan, New York City) — 91
Levitt‘s office at the University of Chicago (Hyde Park, Chicago) — 86
My abode in Los Angeles (Sherman Oaks, Calif.) — 97

Which brings us to the promised bonus myth. As you’ll note, my location demonstrates that there is indeed such a thing as a walkable neighborhood in Los Angeles. In fact, Walk Score ranks Los Angeles as the ninth most pedestrian-friendly city out of the largest 40 cities. More on the city rankings and what they say about the state of American urbanization next post.

So one more stereotype about Los Angeles bites the dust. And before I get off this topic (I promise), let’s dispense with one final myth, namely that Los Angeles is lacking in sophisticated and cultured people. For your information, my image consultant is a Harvard psychology grad, my personal trainer has patented a revolutionary new ab cruncher, and my yogi has attained the Twelfth Circle of Enlightenment.

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  1. OC Progressive says:

    The Walkability Index has quite few methodological problems in most US neighborhoods. For example, using “as the crow flies” measurements, my nearby home improvement store is .6 miles away. I walk there periodically, and it’s twice that distance because I need to walk to the nearest major arterials.

    Correct for that error and other types of errors, and my neighborhood walkability index would drop from 58 to around 40, which is to say that it was designed around the car. If I walk to the neighborhood store, it’s unsafe because I have to walk through parking lots where drivers don’t expect pedestrians.

    I’ve lived in walkable neighborhoods in the past in DC and in San Francisco, where it was practical to combine transit and walking to go for days without needing a car. The neighborhood where I grew up in Cincinnati was also eminently walkable, until the useful neighborhood businesses – the grocery, bakery, hardware store, pharmacy, movie theater, five and dime, were replaced by boutique shops.

    The neighborhoods in the Los Angeles metro area that are truly walkable do exist, but they aren’t all that prevalent. Far too much area is devoted to parking and streets, and the pedestrian environments are hostile and unsafe.

    A walkable neighborhood doesn’t just have some retail establishments withing walking distance. It’s also designed with pedestrians and cyclists in mind, rather than built around the parking of vehicles.

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  2. Jake says:

    I think the fact that it doesn’t take safety, etc. into account is a huge setback. (Sure, I can walk to the library… as long as I cross a three-lane highway!)

    That, and this is exactly why I trust human experience over automation. To say that LA is as walkable as New York, San Francisco, or Boston is absolutely laughable. Sure, there may be some nearby coffeeshops and Quiznos, detectable by an algorithm, but actually living in the cities would tell you otherwise.

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  3. Mike says:

    I found a perfect 100/100: 235 california st, san francisco, CA.

    However, this algorithm neglects to count that in the heart of the financial district, just about everything closes at 6:00 PM.

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  4. RZ says:

    Eric,
    There are definitely parts of LA that are pedestrian friendly – Westwood Village, Los Feliz, Montrose, Pasadena, etc. The problem is that there are far too many areas in L.A. that are isolated – i.e., there is nowhere to walk to. Because so few people walk in LA, it seems quite unsafe for those of us who do like to walk to actually do so. Also, as you mention, topography and other factors do have an effect that aren’t part of the site. While I could easily walk to my local supermarket (4 blocks away), I would probably not do so in the middle of the day in July when my part of the San Fernando Valley sees temperatures of way above 95 degrees. I like to walk but I don’t like doing so in oppressive heat!

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  5. mt says:

    “los angeles,ca” = 97/100!!!

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  6. Kaushik says:

    huh…….if some thing like this is developed for cities in India ……..I bet that the scores will be in negative ……..^^__^^

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  7. LJD says:

    I live in the Toronto area, and typed in three addresses:

    1. My apartment. I live on a major street in the north part of the city. While there is not much directly around my apartment, a nice 15 minute walk will get you to the grocery store, pharmacy, bank and numerous restaurants and stores. I also live <5 minute walk from a subway stop and a regional bus terminal. Score: 37/100

    2. My parents’ home. Located in suburbia, just north of Toronto proper. A few plazas within a 20 minute walk, and a nice park runs through the area. Score: 42/100

    3. My work. Located in a suburb northwest of the city, in what I like to call an ‘industrial wasteland’. There are a ton of auto repair shops, and not much else. A bunch of big box stores somewhat nearby. Street layout is very un-friendly for pedestrians, and it takes about 15 minutes to walk to a coffee shop that is across the street (j-walking not recommended on a 80 km/h, 8 lane road). Only useful things nearby are a post office and liquor store. Score: 48/100.

    The results were essentially the reverse of my personal experience, although there was not a great variation in scores between the three locations.

    While the limitations are described on the site, I think that these are some very serious limitations in not accounting for public transit, street design, safety, etc.

    In particular, I consider the fact that it doesn’t account for public transit to be a major issue. I find the results more or less meaningless if they don’t take it into account. The website seems to lump together using public transit and depending on a car, but whether or not one needs a car can vary dramatically depending on public transit options. Of the three locations I listed, the only one that is liveable without a car is the first, but it has a low score. Indeed, I did it for a year. (Even now, we only take out our car once or twice a week.) These is due to the excellent public transit options nearby.

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  8. Marc says:

    I think it’s fair to include shops, restaurants, etc. as part of the score. For example, consider a 100% residential neighborhood with sidewalks. Sure, you could walk around a lot – but only walking for recreation. Walking to run errands or go somewhere is not feasible. Moreover, if there’s no park nearby then people are less likely to walk for recreation. Walkability includes not just “ability” to walk but also WHETHER people will walk. The more amenities out there the more people will actually walk, with all the resulting benefits to themselves and to society.

    One other thing that the site can’t fully consider – different people will walk different amounts. The amenities start going down in value if they’re greater than 0.25 miles away, and don’t count for anything more than 1 mile away. However, speaking for myself I think nothing of walking 1/2 mile to get somewhere and have been known to walk 1.5 or even 2 miles on a nice day. Of course, someone with physical limitations might find even 0.5 miles insurmountable.

    That’s the sort of thing that is part of a culture of a city. An anecdote: several years ago I went to a weeklong training session at Georgia Tech. There were about 30 people there from all over the country. My coworker and I, both from Philly, thought nothing of walking across campus each day (about .5 mile each way) to get from the hotel to the classroom. Georgia Tech has a beautiful campus (walkability = 100) and this was April, when Atlanta has pleasant weather.

    Every other attendee, who were from either rural areas or smaller cities, took the shuttle bus. The only explanation I could think of is that my coworker and I were both very used to walking in Center City Philly and thought nothing of walking 1/2 mile (and she and I both grew up in the suburbs, too). People from other areas just weren’t as used to walking for the sake of walking.

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