walkability

Improving walkability with a web-app, a street, and two feet

If you could give your street a grade for walkability, how would it rate? How about the streets for the rest of your neighborhood, where you work, or where you shop? Creating a walk-friendly place where people feel comfortable on the street is a key part of developing vibrant communities, and the folks at Walkonomics are working hard to help people find and share how their streets rate.

Through the collective power of open data, crowdsourcing, and social media, Walkonomics has generated over 600,000 ratings for streets throughout the UK and New York City. The web-app provides a zero to five star walkability rating for city streets based on eight characteristics: road safety, ease of crossing, presence and quality of pavements or sidewalks, hilliness, ease of navigation, fear of crime, cleanliness and appearance, and quality of life. Public street data is evaluated using these eight categories to generate an overall rating of walkability for the street, which is then displayed on an interactive map using color-coded markers. You can search for a street, view its rating and those for surrounding roads, see a detailed breakdown of the rating, check out a first-person perspective using street view, and view other users’ comments about a street's condition, all in one interface.

My favorite feature of the app is how it allows users to add their own ratings for streets, which factor into the overall rating average. The app allows anyone to voice their praises or complaints and offers an interactive space for people to discuss conditions and post suggestions for improvement. There is huge potential for city governments to get involved here by sharing data and receiving feedback from citizens on where changes are needed most. City planners especially could use this information to identify areas where pedestrian improvement projects would have the greatest impact. Interactive apps like Walkonomics are offering exciting new opportunities for helping cities create lively, walk-friendly spaces.

~ Allison Bullock

Street Smarts

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

Street Smarts

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

Walkscore

Walkscore is a web app that calculates a 0-100 score meant to demonstrate the walkability of a neighborhood. A community that scores between 90 and 100 is deemed a “Walker's Paradise”, scores ranging from 70-90 are very walkable, 50-70 are somewhat walkable, and scores below 50 indicate a car-dependent area. The app takes into account various criteria for calculating a score: centerpieces like parks or a main street, population density, mixed land uses, parks and public space, pedestrian-oriented urban design, schools and workplace distribution, and complete streets (designs for bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit).

Walkscore has not only been helpful for people trying to evaluate new living locations, but it has also opened up great transparency in the drivers of property value. One study done by CEOs for Cities, a group of urban redevelopment advocates, found that “in a typical market, an additional one point increase in Walk Score was associated with between a $500 and $3,000 increase in home values.”