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Resource: Walkscore Gets Street Smart, Adds a Transit Score, and Calculates Your Commute
Amanda Reed, 18 Aug 10

Transit Score heat maps for Boston, MA; San Francisco, CA; and Seattle, WA (via Transit Score)

Earlier this year, Alex Steffen wrote about how important walkability is for bright green cities and how the existing measurement tools are limited by primarily being tools for measuring proximity:

Walkability is clearly critical to bright green cities. You can't advocate for car-free or car-sharing lives if people need cars to get around, and the enticement to walk is key to making density wonderful, to providing realistic transit options, to making smaller greener homes compelling and to growing the kind of digitally-suffused walksheds that post-ownership ideas seem to demand. So knowing how to define "walkable" is important.

That said, I'm skeptical of most measurements of walkability. Though I'm a fan of efforts like WalkScore, I think it's important to acknowledge their very real limitations. WalkScore, for instance, is a measurement not of walkability but proximity. If we're going to make decisions based on algorithms, we'd better make sure we're using the right formula.

The big thing I think falls out of most walkability formulas is a quality critical to the actual experience of walkability, and that's the extent to which the place in which you live is connected (by walking routes and easy transit) to other places worth walking to.

Well, it's up to designers and business owners to create streetscapes and places worth visiting, but the makers of WalkScore have been working hard to improve their online tool for helping you find out how well connected your home (or potential home) is to other places worth walking to. They're improving their algorithm, by making it "Street Smart," so that walking routes and scores are no longer defined by as-the-crow-flies proximity calculations, but are based on actual walkable routes. Additionally, they've added a Transit Score function, with public transit data from over 100 transit agencies, that allows you to look up how well serviced your neighborhood is by transit. Now, when you visit WalkScore and type in your address you will get both a 'walk score' and 'transit score' for your location. For example, my home in Seattle has a walk score of 95 ("Walker's Paradise"), and a transit score of 68 ("Good Transit"). Here's a list of the full ranking profile:

As a tool for prospective movers, WalkScore's addition of the Transit Score function is good. It expands on the original walkability rankings, and provides a comparative look at the accessibility of amenities, by foot and by transit, in various American cities and neighborhoods.

The most exciting new feature at WalkScore is useful to more people than prospective movers: their new commute function lets you easily compare commute times by foot, bicycle, car, or transit. Using my home as an example again, my commute to the Worldchanging offices in downtown Seattle, breaks down like this:

In addition to mapping out my various routes with Google Maps, WalkScore breaks down my commute times, and even provides a hill profile, which is especially useful for commuting by bicycle! All that seems pretty great, but there's more...

As part of the commute report, and with the help of data from the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) and, WalkScore invites you to input your annual income, and monthly housing transportation costs, so that they can calculate the percentage of your income that you spend on housing and transportation, which should be low if your WalkScore and Transit Score numbers are high. As Eric Hess pointed out, "the idea is to show that it's often cheaper to live in a walkable neighborhoods than far-flung suburbs." (Note: this commute report is similar to, but not the same as, the new Abogo web app we published a post on last week)

You can read more about WalkScore's recent updates at the Seattle Times, Sightline Daily, or The Walk Score Blog.

Related Stories in the Worldchanging archives:

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0-24: It is possible to get on a bus.

But is it possible to walk to the bus stop?

Posted by: Tony Fisk on 18 Aug 10

It is really important to calculate our commute expenses before going into it. Of course, it even depends on your location and the place where you'll go.

Posted by: Jamie of Dumpster Rental MA on 19 Aug 10

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