All posts in “research”

Do You Live in a Food Desert?

A food desert is a neighborhood without access to healthy food.  Why does this matter? Living in a food desert can lead to higher levels of obesity and other diet-related illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease1.

Walk Score helps you make more informed decisions about where to live, like finding an apartment or buying a home within walking distance of a grocery store.

Many cities are making access to healthy food part of their general plans.  For example, Washington D.C.’s sustainability plan sets a goal of having 75% of residents within a 5 minute walk of healthy food.

But how many people can walk to a grocery store in 5 minutes?

Today, we’re announcing a new ranking of the best and worst U.S. cities for access to food based on our database of local places and our Travel Time API and ChoiceMaps technology.

The Best Cities for Food Access

Our ranking measures access to healthy food by calculating the percent of people in a city who can walk to a grocery store in 5 minutes.  The ranking below includes U.S. cities with more than 500,000 residents.

The best cities for access to healthy food are:

Rank City People with Food Access (5 min walk)
1 New York 72%
2 San Francisco 59%
3 Philadelphia 57%
4 Boston 45%
5 Washington D.C. 41%
The best and worst cities for food access.

The best and worst large cities for food access.
Areas in green indicate where you can walk to a grocery store in 5 mins.

The Worst Cities for Food Access

The following cities have the lowest percentage of people who can walk to a grocery store within 5 minutes:

Rank City People with Food Access (5 min walk)
1 Indianapolis 5%
2 Oklahoma City 5%
3 Charlotte 6%
4 Tucscon 6%
5 Albuquerque 7%

Note that rentals and real estate in a city such as Tuscon is much less expensive than in a food-friendly city such as Philadelphia.

Don’t See Your City? Urban planners and researchers, please contact us to unlock your city.


To calculate the percent of residents in a city with access to healthy food we use a variety of data sources and technologies.  Our population data and city boundaries come from the U.S. Census. Our list of grocery stores comes from a mix of Google, Localeze, and places added via the Walk Score website. We calculated millions of walking routes for this ranking with our Travel Time API.

Our goal is to only include grocery stores that sell produce.  We filter out convenience stores with a combination of algorithmic filters and crowdsourcing.  That said, it’s harder than it sounds to get a clean list of grocery stores.  If you see a convenience store miscategorized as a grocery store, please click the “Edit place” link and help us improve our data quality.

Our rankings are proximity based and do not include the cost of food.  Some studies have shown that shoppers select supermarkets based on price as well as proximity2.  For example, people with lower incomes may travel farther to shop at a cheaper grocery store.

Unlike other food desert maps, our maps are dynamic and updated in real-time as our database of underlying grocery stores changes.

Walk Score Data for Your City, County or State 

Walk Score data is being used by a growing number of cities and planning districts.  “The City of San Jose is using Walk Score data to start tracking performance metrics for our general plan such as how many people can walk to fresh food and parks,” said Joseph Horwedel, Deputy City Manager of San Jose.

Walk Score offers data in spreadsheet or shapefile format for every address in the U.S., Canada, and Australia.  We have also aggregated our data for every city and ZIP code in the U.S.

Planners, researchers, and analysts are using Walk Score in a variety of ways:

Contact us to learn more about using Walk Score data in your research and analysis and watch this video to learn more about Walk Score ChoiceMaps:

Walk Score Receives Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Grant

We’re excited to announce that Walk Score has received Part 2 of a grant from Active Living Research, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

We will be working with Dr. Lawrence Frank and Urban Design 4 Health to continue to align Walk Score with the latest research on urban design, walkability, and health. Specifically, we will enhance Walk Score to include more pedestrian friendliness metrics and to increase the correlation between Walk Score and on-the-ground walking behavior.

Why does this matter? One of our goals is to promote research on walkable neighborhoods by providing a cost-effective national walkability metric.  We hope that by increasing the accuracy of Walk Score, we can make our data more useful to researchers.

In Phase 1 of our grant, we developed Street Smart Walk Score and Walk Score was found by Urban Design 4 Health “to be strongly and significantly correlated with an already validated measure of walkability.”

Who uses Walk Score data? Walk Score data is used by leading researchers and city planning departments including CEOs for Cities and the Washington DC Office of Planning.

We’re the first to admit that Walk Score isn’t perfect—so we look forward to adding more “street smarts” to Walk Score with this grant!

Transit Oriented Development With Walk Score

Phoenix, Arizona is using Walk Score data to analyze the performance of existing light rail stations and to model the performance of proposed stations. The Phoenix planning department combined Walk Score, housing, and employment data to measure transit oriented development (TOD).

“Walk Score data helps us understand which corridors and station locations perform best from a land use perspective—which is often a key missing input in transportation planning where the primary focus is on ‘node’ (stations) rather than ‘place’ considerations,” said Curt Upton, the Light Rail Planning Coordinator for The City of Phoenix Planning and Development Services Department.

Walk Score of Existing and Proposed Light Rail Stations

To evaluate station performance, Phoenix used 60,723 data points in shapefile format that included:

  • Street Smart Walk Score
  • Average block length
  • Intersection density

Housing, employment, and Walk Score data used to measure TOD

Phoenix plans to use Walk Score data in a similar fashion to evaluate the performance of their canal corridors.  Did you know Phoenix has 181 miles of canals (and Venice, Italy has 125 miles of canals)?  Here’s a great video on the canals of Phoenix.

Read the full case study: Analyzing Light Rail Station Area Performance in Phoenix.

Try “Street Smart” Walk Score

We’ve been hard at work creating a preview of Street Smart Walk Score—an enhanced version of Walk Score that uses walking distances rather than crow-flies distances to calculate your score.

Street Smart Walk Score also looks at the underlying road network to compute the number of intersections per square mile and average block length. These two measures are great indicators of walkability.

Preview Street Smart Walk Score:

How it Works

For every Street Smart score, we generate hundreds of walking routes to find the nearest amenities. We also analyze the underlying street data to calculate the number of intersections and average block length.

Street Smart Walk Score gives more weight to amenities that are highly correlated with walking. In addition, multiple amenities in each category count towards your score—for example, we count 10 restaurants to reflect the depth of choice that walkable neighborhoods offer.

And, when you look up a Street Smart Walk Score, we give you a report showing exactly how many points each amenity contributed to your score. This makes the algorithm easy to understand and transparent.

We developed Street Smart Walk Score in conjunction with the Walk Score Advisory Board and Dr. Larry Frank, Professor of Sustainable Transportation at the University of British Columbia, and with funding from Active Living Research, a national program office of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Street Smart Example

Is this water clean enough for swimming?

No swimming necessary.

New Tools for Walkability and Public Transit Research

We’re excited to announce new Walk Score tools for researchers and urban planners. Supporting research on the benefits of walkability and public transportation is an important part of our mission.

Walk Score data is now available in a variety of formats (spreadsheet, GIS shapefile, API) and includes the following:

  • Walk Score for all U.S. and some international locations
  • Transit Score and nearby public transit (where available)
  • Road metrics such as intersection density, block length, link/node
  • Walkability heat maps for your area

We’ve also compiled a library of research that uses Walk Score data.

Interested in using Walk Score in your research? Send us a note.

Walk Score Receives Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Grant

We’re excited to announce a new grant from Active Living Research, a national program office of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The goal of the Active Living Research program is to support research to prevent childhood obesity and support active communities.

Under this grant, we will evaluate modifications to Walk Score that include using walking distances rather than as-the-crow-flies distances as well as deeper analysis of the road network to determine pedestrian friendliness.

As part of this collaborative grant, we will be working with Urban Design 4 Health and Dr. Lawrence Frank, a leading walkability researcher from the University of British Columbia.

It’s energizing to see the interest in Walk Score from the academic and policy communities, and we look forward to continuing to partner with researchers and organizations such as CEOs for Cities, Dr. Gary Pivo, and Dr. Lucas Carr.