These Scores Are Made For Walkin’


by Ron Sklar

Walk Score steps up to become the gold standard for walkable neighborhoods.

It’s not news that Americans now want walkable neighborhoods, but the evidence is increasing that walkable doesn’t always translate to “urban.”

The suburbs have been hard at work reinventing themselves as “urban nodes,” which basically means making the suburbs cool: more public transportation and bike/walking trails, multifamily and multipurpose housing, and more artisan shops, coffee bars, dog runs and green parks.

According to Strong Towns, 56 percent of millennials and 46 percent of baby boomers prefer to live in more walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods; demand is also evidenced by sharp increases in rents in recent years.

The outlook on the suburbs was optimistic at the 2016 Urban Land Institute (ULI) Fall Meeting in Dallas.The panelists stated that the American suburbs are evolving into more walkable, sustainable places that rival urban locations. The speakers agreed that the suburbs will increasingly look more like urban centers in the decades to come.

What makes a neighborhood “walkable?” According to the Walk Score website, which has a healthy obsession with this definition, the four factors to consider are health, environment, finances, and communities.

It backs up its definition with the following statistics:

  • The average resident of a walkable neighborhood weighs 6-10 pounds less than someone who lives in a sprawling neighborhood.
  • 87% of CO2 emissions are from burning fossil fuels.
  • Cars are the second largest household expense in the U.S.
  • Walkability is associated with higher levels of arts organizations, creativity, and civic engagement.

Walk Score, a private, Seattle-based company, provides walkability rating services through its website and mobile apps (it also offers apartment search tools). In all, it features a nationwide, public access walkability index that assigns a numerical score to any address in the United States, Canada and Australia.

The company was founded in July 2007 to answer the growing desire for walkable neighborhoods as the best solution for the environment, the economy and personal health. In 2014, it was bought by the residential real estate company Redfin.

Its methodology: Walk Score uses a patented system. It analyzes hundreds of walking routes that lead to nearby amenities. Points are awarded based on the distance to those amenities. Those within a five-minute walk (.25 miles) are given maximum points. No points are given after a 30-minute walk. The site also measures pedestrian friendliness by analyzing population density and road metrics such as block length and intersection density.

Walk Score gets its data from such sources as Google, Education.com, Open Street Map, Localese, and the U.S. Census. It also considers places added by the Walk Score user community. The Walk Score methodology was developed with the Walk Score advisory board and has been validated by leading academic researchers. 

Walk Score is a number between 0 and 100 that measures the walkability of any address in any zip code (there are also scores for public transit and bikes):

90-100
Walker’s Paradise
Daily errands do not require a car

70-89
Very Walkable
Most errands can be accomplished on foot

50-69
Somewhat Walkable
Some errands can be accomplished on foot

25-49
Car-dependent
Most errands require a car

0-24
Car-dependent
Almost all errands require a car

Here are the 10 cities with the most walkable neighborhoods in the U.S. in 2017, according to Walk Score: It’s not always a walk in the park for Walk Score. The media and various urban planning professionals have criticized it for its methodology and accuracy. In its calculations, Walk Score doesn’t include the presence (or non-presence) of sidewalks, the amount of traffic lanes needed to be crossed, or the variables of weather. It also doesn’t differentiate between property types (for instance, a large supermarket versus a small food mart). Nevertheless, the site has become a rule of thumb for real estate marketers.

  1. New York. Walk Score: 89.2
  2. San Francisco. Walk Score: 86.0
  3. Boston. Walk Score: 80.9
  4. Miami. Walk Score: 79.2
  5. Philadelphia. Walk Score: 79.0
  6. Chicago. Walk Score: 77.8
  7. Washington, D.C. Walk Score: 77.3
  8. Seattle: Walk Score 73.1
  9. Oakland. Walk Score: 72.0
  10. Long Beach. 69.9

As a result, a high Walk Score is becoming increasingly important to commercial real estate investors and developers.

“Within walking distance of public transit, we’re seeing a 40% to 200% price premium,” Christopher Leinberger of The Brookings Institution tells the Walk Score website. In addition, Joe Cortright of CEOs for Cities, says, “Each point of Walk Score is worth up to $3,000 in a typical metro area.”

Click here to find out more about Walk Score.