If you live in a suburb like this one in Las Vegas, it might be hard to walk to the grocery store. Photo by ulybug of Flickr.
While surfing the web I found this very interesting website, Walk Score, that calculates the walkability of a residence using an easy to use interface, just like googlemaps or mapquest. All you have to do is enter an address and out comes a rating, from 1 to 100, based on its proximity to nearby services, such as restaurants, parks, and schools.
For the last year I have been more than convinced that I live in a very walkable environment. Yet, I was not satisfied with my score of 78, which according to Walk Score means “Very walkable: possible to get by without owning a car.” Why was my score so low? Does very walkable mean that it’s possible to get by without a car? I would think that very walkable would mean a car would be unnecessary. After doing a little more research I found out that even this great website fails to incorporate things such as availability of public transit, safety, and connectivity, all of which are quite important to what I consider a walkable environment; an environment that supports pedestrian travel in an area. Living close to transit and having a pedestrian friendly design is what motivated me to live where I do and oddly this isn’t even taken into account.
A screenshot of walkscore.com.
As it is, the rating system is not very accurate. But when I tried other addresses I got result that made more sense. For example, Dupont Circle in Washington DC got a perfect score of 100. And a suburban address in Maryland got a dismal score of 28. So for people who are unfamiliar with an area and are interested in moving this tool would be helpful for getting a general understanding of how mixed used a neighborhood is.
From my point of view, the important thing about this website is that it brings a new variable to the “house search criteria”: walkability. Walking is the number one method of human transport in the world, the most affordable and accessible of all modes, it requires no fuel, no fares and even no license! Yet, conventional transportation planning has consistently undervalued the importance of walking and walkability. In order to encourage non-motorized travel and reduce vehicle miles and pollution emissions, we need to send a clear signal to the market and the planning authorities that we, the consumers, are looking for new ways of living,. Simply put, we want environments that foster physical activity, sociability and, most importantly, a high quality of life.