Student blog of the Stanford University Urban Studies Department

What’s The Score?

If you couldn’t tell, on Urbanter, we’re fans of alternative modes of transportation, whether we prefer traveling by bike (On The Road On Two Wheels), public transit (Taking Transportation), walking (Imagining a Bike-Free Stanford), or a combination of the three.  This quarter, I am taking the Urban Studies 165 course: Sustainable Urban and Regional Transportation Planning.  During a session on street redesign, we touched on the topics of pedestrian streets and “walkability,” or how conducive streets and cities are for getting around on foot.  These topics made me wonder which cities in America were considered the most pedestrian-friendly or the most “walkable.”  My curiosity led me to a list published on a smartplanet.com blog called Solving Cities.  According to the blog, out of the largest 50 cities in the United States, the 10 most walkable cities, in order are:

1.     New York City

2.     San Francisco

3.     Boston

4.     Chicago

5.     Philadelphia

6.     Seattle

7.     Washington D.C.

8.     Miami

9.     Minneapolis

10.  Oakland


(photo by Joi Ito on Fotopedia)

The blog also included the 10 least walkable of the 50 largest American cities (click here for the article).  I have been to 7 of the 10 cities listed above and, while I expected some (New York City, Philadelphia), others surprised me (Miami, Boston).  I questioned the metrics used to determine these rankings and discovered that an innovative website called Walk Score was responsible for the list.

 Walk Score measures the walkability of any address in the United States.  Type in a specific location and the website will give that place a walk score between 0 and 100.  The website classifies that address into one of five types of places, depending on what range the score falls in. 0-24 is “Car-Dependent: almost all errands require a car;” 25-49 is “Car-Dependent: a few amenities within walking distance;” 50-69 is “Somewhat Walkable: Some amenities within walking distance;” 70-89 is “Very Walkable: Most errands can be accomplished on foot;” and 90-100 is “Walker’s Paradise: Daily errands do not require a car.”

Walk Score calculates that number by figuring out “the walking distance [from the specified location] to amenities in 9 different amenity categories.”  Points are awarded based on the distance to amenities in each category.  Amenities that are within a quarter of a mile from the address receive maximum points.  No points are given for any amenities that are farther than one mile.  The amenity categories are grocery, restaurants, shopping, coffee, banks, parks, schools, books, and entertainment.  As their methodology paper states, in amenity categories where having many different choices is important, Walk Score also counts multiple amenities in a given category.  Categories are also given various weights according to their importance.  Other metrics that are examined in the algorithm are intersection density and average block length.


(photo by Kevin Galens on Flickr)

The website—which Professor Kott, the instructor of the Urban Studies 165 course, briefly mentioned in class—uses numerous data sources, such as Google, Education.com, Open Street Map, and Localeze.  Aside from giving walk scores, the website also allows users to search for apartments based on commute times, proximity to public transit, or walk scores.  You can also get commute reports and explore local neighborhoods.  You can even calculate an address’s Transit Score and see how accessible public transit options are. 

In addition to how transparent the website is, perhaps my favorite feature on Walk Score is the ability to add or remove places on a Walk Score map.  They encourage user input because they believe that “nobody knows your neighborhood better than you do.”  Walk Score proves to be a highly useful tool and a clearly credible source for establishing the rankings of the most walkable cities in the U.S.  It combines work and research from experts from such institutions as The Sightline Institute and The Brookings Institution with feedback from people who are directly influenced and affected by it.  Walk Score is exactly the type of technological application that Anna Ponting mentioned in her post, “City of Smarts.”  I hope that it gains even more attention than it already has.  In my opinion, websites like Walk Score paint a bright future for cities and their residents.

I calculated the walk score for my home address in New Jersey and it has a score of 80 out of 100.  What’s the score for where you live?



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