All posts in “urban planning”

New Urbanism: If You Build Walkability, They Will Thrive

“New York City has saved more lives since 9/11 than it lost during 9/11, due to walkability,” said Jeff Speck, urban planner, architect and author of Walkable City, at a recent Seattle Town Hall talk. “A mile driven in Montana is less safe than a mile driven in Massachusetts.”

Walkable cities see fewer deaths by automobiles, have greener carbon footprints, boost business and promote health.

With baby boomers retiring and millenials starting careers—urban areas with high walkability are in high demand by both large chunks of the populace.

Walkability has many benefits—economic, environmental, health. For urban planners, developers, engineers and governments, Speck offers a 10-step approach to create walkable urban areas that would also attract talented workers, businesses and high-disposable-income retirees.

Speck says many small to mid-sized cities and downtown cores have poor walkability and are built to accommodate cars. “They are unsafe, uncomfortable and boring.” Rome was listed on Lonely Planet’s top 10 walkable cities, Speck believes, because of its fabric—everyday collection of streets, monuments and other cultural and civic qualities. Pedestrian-friendly cities need to be more than just safe with pretty spaces.

New urbanism—Speck’s approach—goes back to the future, embracing traditional urbanism (classic, walkable towns and neighborhoods) vs. automotive urbanism (sprawl and cul-de-sacs). Speck’s city vision includes four essential conditions to create a walkable built environment:

  1. Useful—everyday means for people to do errands and live a non-car-dependent life.
  2. Safe—pedestrians need to stand a fighting chance of getting around safely sans car.
  3. Comfortable—like an outdoor living room.
  4. Interesting—vibrant life on sidewalks, diverse building architecture, welcoming vibe.

Speck also said, “Walk Score is the cutting-edge of walkability.”

Book Excerpt

The number of nineteen-year-olds who have opted out of earning driver’s licenses has almost tripled since the late seventies, from 8 percent to 23 percent. This statistic is particularly meaningful when one considers how the American landscape has changed since the seventies, when most American teens could walk to school, to the store, and to the soccer field, in stark contrast to the realities of today’s autocentric sprawl.

A Demographic Perfect Storm
Meanwhile, the generation raised on Friends is not the only major cohort looking for new places to live. There’s a larger one: the millennials’ parents, the front-end boomers. They are citizens that every city wants—significant personal savings, no schoolkids.

And according to Christopher Leinberger, the Brookings Institution economist… empty nesters want walkability….

If Walk Score is so helpful in helping people decide where to live, then it can also help us determine how much they value walkability. Now that it has been around for a few years, some resourceful economists have had the opportunity to study the relationship between Walk Score and real estate value, and they have put a price on it: $500 to $3000 per point.

…the demand for walkable urbanism already outpaces the supply. This disparity is only going to get bigger.

Full excerpt from Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time

Listen to Jeff Speck’s NPR interview.

Why Walkability Benefits Disaster Relief

Bikers bring supplies to areas hit by Hurricane Sandy. Photo: Sarah Goodyear

Hurricane Sandy. Hurricane Katrina. Earthquakes. Flooding. Tsunamis. A wave of natural disasters seem to be sweeping our world in ever-increasing intensity. As populations rise, greater numbers of people are affected—residents, businesses and travelers.

Walkability can help communities recover more quickly—providing better escape routes, emergency crew inlets and access to food and supplies. Find temporary housing after Hurricane Sandy with Walk Score rental and commute tools.

5 Reasons Walkable Neighborhoods Are Valuable After Disasters

  1. Walkability means survival—access to food, water, neighbors—in disasters.
    “Walkability is important for quality of life, but in a disaster, it may be life and death,” wrote Grist in the aftermath of an Australia flood. “If you live in the urban sprawl, you’re SOL if you can’t get to a mall or downtown, because that’s where all the necessary stuff is. Cities are more resilient when the stuff you need can be found on a small scale from neighborhood to neighborhood.”
  2. Community resilience can be part of sustainable development and urban design.
    How can urban infrastructure be made more resilient? In an Atlantic Cities interview with green urban planner Jonathan Rose, complexities are apparent, but Rose says, “Urban infrastructure systems actually call on all four of the kinds of resilience… engineering, ecological, business… and emergency.” Andrew Zolli, co-author of Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back, says of resilience, “…it’s the ability to recover, persist or even thrive amid disruption.” In Haiti’s earthquake aftermath, Zolli highlights how citizens, NGOs and groups set up hubs to handle different aspects of recovery—including alternative forms of economic exchange (as ATMs are electricity-dependent). “One way to make cities more resilient… is to design… more opportunities for these improvised responses to occur.”
  3. Bikes can aid people when utilities and other transportation options fail.
    Walkable streets mean bikes can maneuver more easily, arriving with supplies more speedily. Atlantic Cities article Power of Bicycles in Disaster about bikers aiding New Yorkers after Hurricane Sandy is inspiring. “When the trains and buses stopped running, bikes were one of the few reliable ways of moving people, objects, and information around streets choked with debris. They don’t require the gasoline that people are still lining up for hours to get. They don’t need to be charged up – just add some basic food to a human being, and you can power the legs that turn the cranks.”
  4. Walkable streets and communities offer more escape routes.
    Natural Resources Defense Council highlights some of this on their blog, quoting a Middle East survival story as lesson for Western world walkability. “In Beirut, due to the variability of its fabric, everyday needs have to be met locally, as you’re never sure whether a road will be there or not.” Multiples routes along with amenity diversity, clearly matter.
  5. Kids and families can unplug and spend quality time in communities. New York Times article Hurricane Sandy Reveals a Life Unplugged shared stories of adults and kids alike who went through digital withdrawal, but rediscovered life without electronics meant more face-to-face time with their own families and community members.

Pedestrian Group Uses Walk Score to Mobilize Locals

Seattle pedestrian nonprofit Feet First is launching a pilot program using Walk Score to mobilize Rainier Valley citizens to report walkability problems. Feet First will analyze data collected via Walk Score’s new iPhone app and website and present it to City of Seattle officials to help resolve local pedestrian challenges.

Walk more“People care about their community’s built environment and infrastructure, but they do not always know where to turn to effectively report particular problems in a neighborhood,” says Feet First Executive Director Lisa Quinn. “This innovative technology increases the number of ‘eyes on the street’ that can capture information in real time. With limited budgets, this app is a valuable resource for Feet First and government agencies that are looking to invest their time and money into projects that will provide safe, easy, and accessible ways for people to choose to walk.”

Feet First’s Rate Your Space campaign will help anyone who lives, works or plays in Seattle’s Rainier Valley identify safety hazards, maintenance issues and other pedestrian-environment deficiencies. Wheelchair users, parents, workers and others can use Walk Score to identify broken sidewalks, hazardous street crossings, etc. Campaign kick-off: November 9, 2012 at 5:30 PM at Rainier Community Center.

Kudos to Feet First for training and educating neighborhoods about walkability. Walk Score hopes their efforts help improve infrastructure—and can be replicated across Seattle to create healthier, safer and greener communities.

Walkability Experts Use New Walk Score App to Audit Neighborhood

Health. Safety. Sustainability. Social equity. Community appeal. Access to nearby amenities. These factors all encompass walkability. Three Seattle-based organizations, Feet First, the International Sustainability Institute and The Alliance for Pioneer Square that work together to improve Pioneer Square streets and public spaces, conducted a walkability audit using Walk Score’s new iPhone app.

“For over ten years, Feet First, the only pedestrian advocacy organization in Washington, has worked to ensure that there are walkable communities throughout the state,” said Feet First’s Lisa Quinn. “The new Walk Score app is a wonderful complement to Feet First’s walking audit reporting system. This innovative technology increases the number of ‘eyes on the street’ that can capture information in real time. With limited budgets, this app is a valuable resource for advocacy organizations and government agencies that are looking to invest their time and money into projects that will provide safe, easy and accessible ways for people to choose to walk.”

Explore Pioneer Square’s parks, alleys, shortcuts, and more

Seattle’s oldest neighborhood, Pioneer Square, (Walk Score = 86, Transit Score = 100) is home to professional soccer, baseball and football games for sports fans; train, ferry and bus hubs for commuters and visitors; buildings for businesses, retailers and residents with plenty of boutiques, eateries and Puget Sound views.

Who knew Seattle has a proper national park? This neighborhood gem and national historical park is part of America’s western frontier Klondike Gold Rush history. Entrance is free. Did you know about this shortcut between Pioneer Square and Chinatown/International District? How about this alley that has been transformed with flower boxes? Or an alley with a bike shop and public events that range from movies to circus acts? Nice spots to explore.

Identifying walkability problem spots

Poor ADA access on certain sidewalks causes issues for wheelchair-enabled fellow citizens and stroller-pushing people who need curb ramps. This problem spot is highlighted on the walk audit as an opportunity for improvement after the steel plate is removed for construction. These areas will become particularly key to give people with disabilities access to a new streetcar being built down Jackson Street. Other walkability barriers and problem spots are a transit plaza that could use more vendor activity to encourage walk appeal, and cars parked on a pedestrian-friendly zone that discourages walkers and community gatherings.

Valuable tools for advocacy organizations

“The International Sustainability Institute used the new Walk Score app to highlight a walkability audit of Pioneer Square conducted earlier this year,” said Liz Stenning, the institute’s project manager. “Adding pictures and comments really helps bring these places to life. The Walk Score app could be a potential tool for policy change. If problem spots receive numerous comments and ideas for infrastructure change, they could be shared with policy makers. Just as important, sharing the gems and unique places of a neighborhoods is a way to promote businesses, off-the-beaten path spots and neighborhoods in general.”

Why are walkable (and bike-friendly) neighborhoods important?

  • Community: For every 10 minutes a person spends in a daily car commute, time spent in community activities falls by 10% (Sightline Institute).
  • Health: Health care costs attributed to a lack of physical activity are $76 billion annually (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
  • Environment: Carbon emissions from vehicles will be 41% above today’s levels by 2030 if people don’t drive less (Urban Land Institute).
  • Economic: Boosting all US trips by bike from 1% to 1.5% would save more than 460 million (expensive) gallons of gas per year (Walkable and Livable Communities Institute).

Do a walkability audit of your neighborhood

  1. Download the app from the Apple Store
  2. Take a walk around your neighborhood and add photos of local gems and problems spots
  3. Share with friends. Encourage them to “like” or comment on your favorite gems. And see if they agree about problem spots that need to be fixed. NOTE: Any gems or problem spots added via the app can also be found, commented on, liked, etc. on

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.

Introducing Transit Score and Commute Reports

When deciding where to live and work, not only do you want to know what amenities and services are nearby, you also want to understand your transportation options. How easily can you walk, bike or take the bus? How long will it take to get from point A to point B? And how much will it cost?

Last year, with the support of The Rockefeller Foundation, we set out to address these questions. And building on the initial integration of public transit information into Walk Score and the launch of City-Go-Round, today we are pleased to take another step forward in promoting transparency around transportation choices.

Our new Transit Score and custom Commute Reports empower anyone to quickly understand the proximity of public transportation and their commuting options.

Read the official press release.

What’s your Transit Score?

Transit Score of Boston

Similar to Walk Score, Transit Score provides a 0-100 rating indicating how well an address is served by public transportation. Ratings range from “Rider’s Paradises” that have world-class bus and rail service to areas with limited or no nearby public transportation. Transit Score is currently available in over 40 cities where public transit information is available. These cities include Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington D.C.

What will your commute be like?

Commute Report in Seattle

After you’ve looked up an address on Walk Score, you can now get a summary of commuting options, including the time it would take to get to your work, school or other location by car, bike and foot and to see nearby public transit stops and routes. The customized commute report also includes a visual representation of the hills between your home and work to better understand how bikable or walkable the route may be.

Can you really afford this home?

Housing and Transportation Costs

For most families, transportation is the second largest household expense. Walk Score’s new home and transportation costs calculator makes it easier for people to understand the true costs of owning or renting in a particular location. Based on a few simple pieces of information, the calculator generates an estimated monthly amount that includes housing and transportation costs.

In particular, we’d like to thank Benjamin de la Pena, Associate Director at The Rockefeller Foundation, and the team at the Center for Neighborhood Technology who have been great partners on this initiative.

“Street Smart” Walk Score

We’re transparent about how Walk Score works and how it doesn’t work — and you’re vocal about the things you’d like to see us improve!

So we’re excited to share a sneak peek at the work we’re doing to address one of our top customer requests: using walking distances rather than crow-flies distances when calculating a Walk Score.

“Street Smart” Walk Score

Here’s an example of a house located across a freeway from a shopping mall.  Walk Score currently gives this location a higher score than it deserves, because crow-flies distances assume you’ll walk across the freeway.

Walking across the freeway is dangerous.

The new “Street Smart” Walk Score uses walking routes and gives this location a lower score.

Walking routes to amenities.

Here’s another example from Baltimore where Walk Score currently assumes you will swim:

Is this water clean enough for swimming?

Here’s a more accurate picture of what you can walk to — but the score doesn’t change much:

No swimming necessary.

Pedestrian Friendliness

“Street Smart” Walk Score also incorporates a number of metrics that urban planners use to measure pedestrian friendliness:

  • Intersection density measures how many intersections there are in a square mile— more is better.
  • Another metric is something called link/node ratio.  This measures how many roads go into each intersection (e.g. a 4-way intersection is more walkable than a 1-way cul-de-sac).
  • Since shorter length blocks are more pedestrian friendly than long mega-blocks, block length as another proxy for pedestrian friendliness.

Here they are for my house in Seattle:

Pedestrian Friendliness Metrics

We’re currently working with Urban Design 4 Health and our advisory board on these refinements to the Walk Score algorithm.  Stay tuned for more updates.

A big thanks to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for funding this work.