The well-known tool for indexing walkability, WalkScore, is receiving a valuable overhaul.  WalkScore’s new project – the “street smart” WalkScore – will take into account actual travel distances along pedestrian networks rather than using “as-the-crow-flies” distances.  The discrepancy has been one of the most suggested improvements and issues users find with the current service. The distance simplification currently used by the service is efficient for calculations, however it could unintentionally send pedestrians walking across a highway or swimming across a river.  While a person may live a short distance from a popular and desirable destination, there may exist significant obstacles to walking to that destination.  Therefore, the calculator as it stands now overestimates walkability, potentially undermining the environmental, health, and financial benefits it purports to have as a goal by painting a rosier-than-reality picture for planners and policy-makers. Network distances aren’t the only upgrades the system will receive.  The new version will incorporate measures of intersection density, the link-to-node ratio (how many roads meet at an intersection), and block length – each indicators of pedestrian friendliness used by urban planners in practice.

These upgrades will improve the ability of urban planners to evaluate the existing conditions in their neighborhoods and provide examples of more walkable environments to which they can aspire.  Additionally, researchers studying walkability will have a new tool at their disposal.  The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is funding the upgrade.

-Terra Curtis

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