Announcing America’s Most Walkable Neighborhoods

Today we’re announcing our walkability rankings of 2,508 neighborhoods in the largest 40 U.S. cities. Leave us a question or comment on this blog post—we’d love to hear what you think! You may want to read our detailed methodology before posting comments.

More importantly, we need your help to create more walkable neighborhoods. Please sign this petition to Congress to support walking, biking, and transit in the 2009 Transportation Bill.  The Transportation Bill only comes along once a decade—so now is the moment to change our transportation priorities!

22 Comments

  1. Eric

    LA at number 9? Are you serious? I live here and NO ONE walks. Everything is miles away. There’s NOTHING to do Downtown. Maybe Hollywood, but then it should be listed as Hollywood, California, and not Los Angeles, California. Alright, so there are small zones in LA where you’ll find people walking around: Venice, 3rd Street Promenade, Hollywood, Fashion District. But seriously, people RARELY walk out their house and go meandering around the city. You don’t meet people walking, you couldn’t go from one hot spot to another walking. Los Angeles is a DRIVING city more than any other place in the world.

    Comments from Los Angelenos?

    Eric

  2. Brian

    It’s too bad Honolulu didn’t make the list (only because it’s not in the top 40 largest cities, currently 47 based on 2005 population). with downtown, chinatown, and waikiki. It scores a 77 with your meter.

  3. Jin

    I just wanted to say that this website is really awesome. It’s a practical way to decide where to live if you want to be a bit greener, and I think it’ll do a lot of good! Thank you so much for doing this!

    And oh – I love San Francisco! :)

  4. JKH

    Thank you for including Fresno California in your listings.

    This place will never get better if we aren’t made to realize how bad it is.

  5. johnny

    As a resident of LA, I’m just happy that we didn’t get the #40 slot. Can we now change the old cliché to “Nobody walks in Jacksonville”?

  6. alan

    Was New Orleans not considered? Addresses in the French Quarter return 100 percent walkability rating. My address on Frenchman Street (the Marigny neighborhood) resulted in a 91 percent rating. The New Orleans Metro is certainly one of the largest 40 metros in the US.

    I would really like a response if possible. A simple “New Orleans wasn’t considered” for whatever reason would suffice. Please contact me at the email left in this comment.

    Walkability is a growing rubric for evaluating potential residencies of choice, and one that New Orleans scores well on. It is unfortunate that we weren’t included for your press release, and I hope its omission will be rectified shortly.

  7. Jane

    I’m sure I’m not the first to complain, but San Francisco a walker’s paradise? Better than New York? I grew up in Manhattan and have lived in 4 different neighborhoods in San Francisco over the last 10 years. All of the public transportation in San Francisco goes straight downtown. There is no network of reliable public transportation to take you between residential neighborhoods. There also aren’t compelling ways to get out of the city without a car because with a very few exceptions, once you arrive at your destination, you still need a car to get around. People in New York take public transportation to go to the beach. I’ve never seen that in San Francisco, even though the beaches are way more accessible, inside city limits and arguably themselves situated in “walkable neighborhoods”. Also, isn’t New York the city where people joke that they literally don’t stray beyond 10 blocks of where they live?

    Are you taking into consideration how many people *actually* live without cars when calculating your scores? (ie. # of cars registered per capita per city block) That would paint the most accurate picture of how walkable neighborhoods are.

    Don’t get me wrong, San Francisco is much better than most American “cities” and has many wonderful things about it that make it much more “pleasant” to walk around in than anywhere else. But it’s weird to even compare San Francisco to New York wrt “practical” walkability. It’s also weird that so many drastically different neighborhoods in San Francisco are considered roughly similar in walkability. I mean there is a reason why so many single-family houses in Richmond and Sunset have 2 car garages! Some people manage it, but most people can’t live out there without 1 car per working adult. You might be able to commute to a job within the city by bus from the Richmond. But you couldn’t manage it if you had a job say in the valley because you’d be commuting within the city for an hour before you even got to the commuter train.

    Hmm, it seems like something else to take into consideration is jobs. A city isn’t walkable unless the public transportation is good enough to get people to jobs outside of the city or the city itself provides enough jobs to employ its residents.

  8. Carrie

    Your top 40 walkable cities is good, however you should include those that may be just outside of the cities jurisdiciton as they are very walkable but are not considered part of the city.

    Examples of this include Hoboken NJ (95-100) outside of New York City, Alexandria VA (94-100) outisde of Washington, D.C. and Sausalito, CA (98-100) outside of San Francisco, CA. Just a thought!

  9. Matt Lerner
    Matt

    Thanks everyone!

    One of the comments we’ve heard the most is, “How the heck is LA #9?!” LA is notorious for being car-dependent. However, LA has a number of walkable neighborhoods (in addition to the neighborhoods mentioned above, Silver Lake, Koreatown, Van Nuys are all walkable). Together, these neighborhoods push LA’s Walk Score higher than the more sprawling cities lower on the list.

    Another little known fact about LA is that it is “the most densely populated place in the continental United States.”
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/08/10/AR2005081002110.html

    Residential density helps make a city walkable because there are more people to support local businesses and frequent transit.

    You’re more likely to see people out walking in LA than in cities with lower Walk Scores–so although people in LA may love their cars, there’s tons of great walking, biking, and transit.

  10. Matt Lerner
    Matt

    I also wanted to shed more light on how we define a city. First, we’re only ranking the largest 40 U.S. cities so unfortunately New Orleans (#78) didn’t make it. We’d love to expand our rankings in the future.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_cities_by_population

    Another question I hear frequently is, “Why isn’t New York City #1?” We use the U.S. census boundaries for the cities we rank. New York City includes Staten Island which is largely unwalkable. You can see this on the New York map:
    http://walkscore.com/rankings/New_York

    Manhattan is amazingly walkable with a huge number of Walk Score 100 locations–but Staten Island pulls New York City’s overall score down.

    More details on our methodology page here:
    http://walkscore.com/rankings/ranking-methodology.shtml

  11. rick

    Like New Orleans, St. Louis Missouri is not on the list. We are a city not in a county, with a population of about 350,000. Our metro has about 2.5 million.

    Most of our Metro is fairly unwalkable, but most our city proper is built on a grid system with alleys and neighborhood commercial areas, lots of parks, services, etc.

    Many parts of our city score in the high 70s to 90s. We like to think of St. Louis as a best kept secret.

    Well, really, we don’t like being a secret. We want to be discovered!

  12. Fred

    Sorry, Folks, A mea culpa about not including access to public transportation in your algorithm does not cut it in my book.

    Get it in there!

    On the other hand, having lived car-free in both New Orleans and Montreal, I don’t agree that weather conditions have a significant detrimental effect on the walkability of a neghborhood. Weather only affects walkability where poor streetscape design (heat islands) and unequal services (snow-clearing) amplify its effects.

  13. Fred

    Another thought,
    As an architect and LEED Accredited Professional;
    This is a great tool for Locating local businesses when investigating compliance with the LEED Sustainable Sites credit 2.

  14. Jane

    Hi Matt,

    I don’t think the criticism about San Francisco topping NYC can simply be explained away by Staten Island. The truth is, the maps for San Francisco are inaccurate. Much more than 1% of the city residents depend on cars.

    Casually searching, I found a study on car ownership, which I still believe is a better way to measure walkability. 42% of New Yorkers don’t own cars. The next closest city is Jersey City at 30%. San Francisco is 7th at 12% which means it barely scrapes by above L.A., which comes in at 11%. http://berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2006/03/23_carownership.shtml

    The availability of a bus stop or a cafe within a quarter mile of where you live isn’t a good predictor of whether you can actually get by without a car. It’s a factor, but the quality of that public transportation (reliability, frequency, where it goes, even how easy it is to pay for it) and the availability of jobs reachable via that public transportation muddy the waters considerably.

  15. Matt Lerner
    Matt

    Thanks, Jane. I love this comment–very insightful!

    The percentage of car ownership in a city probably says more about a city’s transit infrastructure and cultural preferences than it does about whether a city is walkable. For example, you might live in a small city or town that is very walkable but also has a high percentage of car ownership. For example, Boulder, CO is very walkable but only 8.66% of the population is car-free. Note: Boulder is not included in our city rankings because it is not in the largest 40 U.S. cities.

    We’re trying to help people find walkable neighborhoods where they can live a car-lite lifestyle. Having a diversity of businesses nearby is a great indicator of a neighborhood’s vitality and is the top indicator of whether or not people walk.

    I agree that the biggest weakness with the Walk Score algorithm is that we don’t currently factor in proximity to transit (we’re working on adding this!). 77% of Americans drive to work alone each day and you’re absolutely right that having jobs near transit is the solution.

    One small note: our walkability maps show where it is possible to get by without a car–not the percentage of people who are actually car-free :-)

    Thanks for the great comment!

    FYI, I’ve found this website useful that let’s you search by city to see the percentage of people who are car-free.
    http://www.bikesatwork.com/carfree/carfree-census-database.html

  16. Don’t know how doable it would be, but it would be cool if you could show neighborhoods/maps in general with high walkability scores, not just in the 40 largest cities.

    That way in our sprawling St. Louis region, we could show that if you want a walkable community, there are these nodes (many city neighborhoods and some of our older streetcar suburbs) that offer walkability, while so many of the post WW2 suburbs are mostly car dependent.

  17. johnny

    “One of the comments we’ve heard the most is, ‘How the heck is LA #9?!'”

    The answer is, that would NEVER have happened if these rankings had been had-picked instead of algorithmically generated. Too many people believe in LA being the car capital for any magazine or website to risk pointing out (or even be aware of) LA’s walkable side. While it’s true that plenty of people in LA are still reluctant to get out of their cars, there is also a growing and active car free community here – check out Metro Rider LA, or LA Streetsblog. The LA times hosts the transit and pedestrian friendly Bottleneck Blog, and last Sunday two LA times business section editors wrote about selling their homes in the Hollywood Hills and embracing a pedestrian lifestyle downtown. To be sure, there are some terrible places to walk here, but there are also some true greats, which most people seem to be unaware of.

    I’m sure a human-compiled list of walkable cities would have probably have pegged LA in the bottom 10, and even I would probably have guessed the city’s rank no higher than 20 out of 40. To see both LA and neighboring Long Beach be ranked in the top ten was pretty awesome for me, and something of a vindication. Leave it to computers to overturn our assumptions when humans can’t or don’t want to.

    Matt, I hope you do eventually include public transit in the walk score, perhaps there’s some way to integrate the walk score with Google’s transit resources? And ftr, the neighborhood in Southwest LA is spelled “Leimert Park”, not “Leiment Park” :) Thanks for providing this wonderful service.

  18. johnny

    In response to Eric, the first poster. I guess I somehow skipped over his post when reading the others. While not really that surprising, it’s a shame to see people sticking up for car life here in LA when (for me and many others at least) it can be dropped surprisingly easily. Perhaps Eric is one of the many former New Yorkers to decamp for our humble burg, who upon discovering that there isn’t a subway station on every corner, fully buys into the idea that “Los Angeles is a driving city more than any other place in the world.” Admittedly and unfortunately, trains here don’t go everywhere, and “hot spots” are more spaced out. But come on, “a driving city more than anywhere else in the world?” Puh-lease! Visit pretty much ANY southern city, and you will soon think otherwise (with notable exceptions like New Orleans, Miami, and possibly Atlanta). Even compared to smart growth hubs like Portland and Seattle (using Matt’s link), LA has comparable rates of non-car commuters and car free households. The Berkeley study linked to above lists the percentage of car free people in LA at 11%, the same as Chicago. As far as there being “NOTHING to do downtown”, Julie Makinen disagrees in the LA Times article I linked to:

    “In the last month alone, I’ve attended a free salsa class, an evening concert on Grand Avenue, an art lecture at MOCA, a “locals” happy hour with complimentary appetizers and a $10 marimba concert at the Colburn Music School.”

    What’s more, a subway does exist between Downtown and Hollywood, and it is standing room only well into the 10:00 hour. And while it’s true that the sidewalks aren’t always packed (Broadway downtown, Little Tokyo, Chinatown, Alvarado St. in MacArthur Park, Koreatown, Los Feliz, Silverlake, Hollywood, West Hollywood, Westwood, Culver City, and Santa Monica’s Promenade excepted) there may be more people who “walk out their house and go meandering around the city” than you think. You just can’t see them from your hilltop mansion.

  19. Michael

    (Note to moderator: please delete the first comment I submitted and replace it with this edited version. Thank you.)

    Thanks for this fun and informative list.

    If you generate a similar list in a year (which I hope you do), or if you decide to maintain this list constantly, might I suggest that you go with a slight modification of your list of included cities? Instead of the 40 largest US cities by raw population, it seems worth considering going with the largest city in each of the 40 largest metro regions in the US.

    I’m currently a San Francisco resident, but I grew up in St. Paul, and find it strange that Minneapolis is not on the list, as it is certainly more urbane than many other cities listed, and is part of a top 20 metro region. While it’s great to draw attention to cities like Fresno that need a lot of work, it’s also important to take the marketing opportunities where they exist by including all cities that have more sophisticated media markets.

  20. Aaron

    Great idea, but it seems the best scoring would also consider bicycle friendliness in addition to walking. My neighborhood scored 66. Seems about right, I walk or ride my bike, and my wife still wants to drive everywhere.

    For her, walking means giving up possibilities, and that’s just a no no.

    So when do we start changing zoning regulations again???????

  21. Aaron

    If you’re going to consider % of people without car, be sure to adjust for income. Car less obese people exist, especially in densely populated inner cities–don’t let them confuse your results.

    Access to desirable infrastructure is very important.

    As an LA resident, my neighborhood ranking feels right. I drive during the week, but on the weekend, it’s bike or walk for me.

  22. Anon

    Another piece missing: Walking to major mass transit (subway, light rail), then walking around the destinations. The SF Bay area’s transit system covers a huge area and connects many walkable regions… Adding a distance walkability would be interesting. Integrating transit maps would be tricky, admittedly.

    My old stomping grounds are rated kinda low, but I walked just about everywhere. Walk, hop on a train, walk… Or walk, hop on a bus, walk…

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