Sunday, August 05, 2007

Walk Score

There's an obvious correlation between the walkability of a neighborhood and how much one needs (wants?) to drive a car to take care of the basics of life - shopping, entertainment and recreation; and, hence, the attractiveness of carsharing. But short of the various sophisticated analyses developed by the Center for Neighborhood Technology in Chicago for the Location Efficient Mortgage Program, there's never been a very easy way for you and I to track such things.

Until the advent of, that is. With an elegantly simple presentation, you simply type in a US address (sorry, rest of the world) and up pops a map showing the businesses in the area and a calculated walking score:
90 - 100 = Walkers' Paradise: Most errands can be accomplished on foot and many people get by without owning a car.
70 - 90 = Very Walkable: It's possible to get by without owning a car.
50 - 70 = Some Walkable Locations: Some stores and amenities are within walking distance, but many everyday trips still require a bike, public transportation, or car.
25 - 50 = Not Walkable: Only a few destinations are within easy walking range. For most errands, driving or public transportation is a must.
0 - 25 = Driving Only: Virtually no neighborhood destinations within walking range. You can walk from your house to your car!

Not surprisingly, behind the scenes is Google Maps. According to the website, the score is based on the distance to walkable destinations near an address. The types of businesses listed are retail/consumer-oriented businesses. It doesn't say so, but, presumably, in addition to the distance it's also taking into account the number (and maybe even variety) of businesses close-by. The website has a page listing conditions for more walkable neighborhoods.

WalkScore is up front about the limitations of the analysis - one obvious one being the use of "as the crow flies" distances - which would show an area walkable even if all the businesses were on the other side of a river. Other factors NOT taken into account are: street width and block length, safety, crime, traffic accidents, crosswalks, pedestrian-friendly design, topography (hills, freeways, water), public transit and weather.

It's not obvious who's behind WalkScore, but the website says it's "inspired by" the Sightline Institute in Seattle (where I first heard about it). Other groups mentioned are Cooltown Studios, a Washington DC outfit with the slogan "Crowdsourcing urban growth for creatives" and Walkable Communities Inc. . Thanks to all behind it!