Tuesday, November 27, 2007

What's Your Walk Score?

My friend Mortimer sent me a link to a website I'd never heard of called Walk Score. You can enter any address and it will score the neighborhood's "walkability"-- i.e., how close a variety of businesses and services are, such as bars, gyms, hardware stores, supermarkets and libraries.
Mortimer and I were both sad to see that in our recent moves to cheaper neighborhoods, we'd dropped 10 or so points down to in the 80s out of a possible 100. That's life in New York!
But New York City is a tough place to test an application like this-- almost anywhere in New York will probably score over 80. And as the "how it doesn't work" page warns, there are lots of limitations-- the program can't tell how safe the streets are, or whether the distance noted to a business happens to cross a body of water. And the map data isn't 100% accurate. I was pleased to note that I lived within a short distance of a couple of movie theaters, which was news to me. But one was incorrectly said to be on 2nd Avenue in Brooklyn when it's actually on 2nd Avenue in Manhattan. And I'm pretty sure the other is actually just an adult video peep show type place, where I probably can't see Blade Runner: The Final Cut no matter how many quarters I put in.

But why am I writing about this? Why does walkability matter? The site answers this question in terms of promoting better health via exercise, helping the environment by reducing the use of cars and increasing public transportation, and strengthening community by having stronger local businesses and more face-to-face interaction with neighbors. Of course I had to look at it from a personal finance angle instead!
Obviously, the big thing is that living in a walkable neighborhood can make a car totally unnecessary. Like many New Yorkers, I have never owned a car. On the rare occasions I really need one, I rent or borrow one. But I can take care of all my daily needs on foot or by using the variety of public transportation options that are made viable here by the high population density. Not needing a car saves me a huge amount of money.
But are walkable neighborhoods cheaper? Again, New York might be a skewed example, but rents and real estate prices are definitely higher in more walkable neighborhoods. Prices in stores might also be a bit higher, though I have found that often it's just due to stores carrying upscale brands-- sometimes in "poor" neighborhoods, prices are higher for the same item than they are in more affluent areas.
I also find that there are some things that I don't necessarily want to have in walking distance. If I lived in Brooklyn Heights, say, I could easily walk past a variety of nice clothing stores on my way home from work or on the weekends. Where I live now, I have no such temptation, which is a good thing!
How walkable is your neighborhood? Does walkability help you save money, or make you spend more?

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

I recently moved from a neighbourhood that rated 17 on the walkability scale to a 55. Still not amazing in terms of walkability, but then again, I live in Canada, so when it's -20*C in the winter, nothing's really that walkable anyway. Nonetheless, I do find that I've been spending a lot less money on my car since I moved. I still have insurance and monthly payments, but instead of one tank of gas per week, I can usually make a tank stretch three weeks, if I'm not taking any out of town trips. I also don't have to pay for parking, which is nice - now if I want to go to a nice downtown restaurant, I walk there instead of driving and paying $10 to park for the evening. The only financial downside is that I do go out for drinks a lot more because I can now walk to the local pub... but I find I actually go out for dinner less because it's too cold to walk, and I can't justify taking a cab or driving a couple blocks.

So, on the balance, walking more definitely equals some financial gains for me.

Anonymous said...

I live in a suburban neighborhood in northern California. I tried this out, expecting to see a very low walk score, but it actually scored my neighborhood at 83! On closer examination, though, the distances to many places I might go were off by quite a bit, at least several miles, and were not what I would consider walkable, at least not in a reasonable amount of time. As for the places that were walkable, I typically drive there anyway because when I go out to run errands, I tend to do a number of stops and group them to save time and gas (which is horribly expensive here). I think most people that live around here would say a car is a necessity, regardless of the walk score.

Also, I lived in San Francisco for a while, and did not have a car at that time. When I purchased my car (when I moved out of the city), I got a huge sense of freedom. When I was car-less, I think I felt very limited as to what I could do by what I could reasonably carry, the timing of public transportation, or the kindness of friends and family to let me borrow a vehicle or give me a ride. The feeling of not having to worry about those things and go where I want when I want to is huge for me, and well worth the extra expense.

Megan Frampton said...

I live in Park Slope, and I got a 95; good thing, since we don't own a car, and I walk everywhere.

I don't have money to shop, so passing by temptation isn't a big deal to me.

I love walking everywhere except when grocery shopping. Yay for delivery options.

I read your site all the time, you are an inspiration!

SandyVoice said...

I moved eight years ago from a 98 to a 94 neighborhood. I actually walk more now, because things are just a little farther away, but within a realistic range.

Having grown up in NY, and lived all my adult life in Manhattan, I've never even been behind the wheel of a car, so walkability was the most important thing on my list of requirements when I was looking for an apartment. It's much less expensive to live without a car, and I know I'm in better shape than most of my out of town friends. The sense of community is important, too. It's really great to see neighbors out on the street, running errands, or just coming home from work, and it helps a single woman feel safe.

The Walk Score site listed a lot of businesses I've never seen. The one bookstore they list carries books I'd be embarrassed to be caught reading! And they missed the two good bookstores that are just a little farther away. But the basic score seems about right.

Peachy said...

My Chicago suburb got a 55, surprisingly. The website doesn't take into account sidwalks though...more so the lack of them. Apparently 5.18 miles to a theater is acceptable and 2.73 to a bar is a good thing to get you sober.

Anonymous said...

I live in a northern california suburb and also got 55 (seems like a common score). We picked this neighborhood explicitly for its walkability. I thought it was interesting that it didn't identify the fact that we can walk to a bus line and a train station. I think these increase the walkability of our neighborhood a lot.

Also, the closest park it found is .4 miles away and is up a very long steep hill. We did walk there once, and we too tired to play when we arrived.

We do walk to the park that is .6 miles away all the time though.

contrary canary said...

That is a cool site, nice post. I live in that city known to preachers and hobos as The Devil's Porchlight, Las Vegas. My house is in a cookie cutter suburb that I though would score low, and it did, 34. Plus that doesn't take into account the scorching hot summers when walking anywhere is made more difficult by the 120 degree average temperature. But I've lived here for 2 years and have a nice car so I'm over it. I'd prefer to live somewhere milder such as San Fran or Seattle, but for the time being my work keeps me here. So I'm ok with my low walkability. I guess I just post this to point out that most of you guys scoring 50 and above really have something to be thankful for, living someplace where walking is a pleasant option.

Anonymous said...

My score was 6!!!!!!!! I can't wait to get out of here - Endicott, NY

beth said...

My current neighborhood (Bay Area) got an 88, and my former neighborhood (Portland OR) got a 92. I actually feel like my current place is MORE walkable, but obviously a difference of 4 points is pretty negligible.

In Portland I drove 40 miles roundtrip for work, so now that I've got a 7 mile round trip commute (and can bike or walk/shuttle) I only buy gas once a month.

What a great little tool!

Anonymous said...

14 out of 100. No wonder we are the fattest city!

Athena said...

My neighborhood only got a 63 but I don't think that's accurate at all. I live within a 2-10 mins walk to literally dozens of restaurants, great shops, theatres .. everything, really. I live right in the 'Entertainment District', next to the Fashion District. Many, many businesses were missing from that map -- and they listed the closest theatre as being the HQ for Cineplex Odeon quite a distance away. Meanwhile there are movie theatres close by not to mention several live theatre houses. I suspect this is cause I'm in Canada.

My husband and I don't even have driver's licenses so we need to live in a 'walkable' neighborhood. We don't spend any more or less money than we normally would; I've always lived in walkable areas. I imagine if I didn't, I'd have to spend far more on cabs. . and probably have to get a driver's license, a car, insurance.. .

hazygrey said...

I live in a 98 neighbourhood - I'm just below Spanish Harlem in Manhattan, so it's not surprising. Despite all the shops and restaurants around me, I get groceries, meals and shopping products delivered (doesn't hurt to have a doorman)which rather takes away from the convenience and health value of living in a walkable neighbourhood. But I do like going out for long walks after dinner, and I feel comfortable doing that because being in a pedestrian neighbourhood, there are many people outside at all times.

Clean ClutterFree Simple said...

What a cool tool! I scored an 82, and it's true that we do walk to services--grocery store is just two blocks away, lots of coffee houses. But, the sidewalk issue! We have two blocks without sidewalks to get to the area with businesses, and I just don't walk it at night. It's not safe. Sad to say, I live in Seattle

Daniel said...

That's a fun tool Madame X! I've lived in the suburbs of Detroit my entire life. I was at a 48 the past few years when I lived in an apartment. Earlier this year I bought a condo in a nearby city and now I'm at a 43. Luckily though my office is less than 0.5 miles away so I get to walk to work every day. I think that is more helpful than having things like grocery stores nearby (What a pain it would be to try to carry all those bags home).

guinness416 said...

Like Athena, I don't believe the score it gave my neighbourhood. I don't have a driver's license, so have to live in a walkable area, but the site doesn't seem to agree. I've commented similarly on other sites, but among other things it doesn't seem to account for proximity to subways and streetcars (obviously vital for walkers) & the gym I walk home from every single day is not "considered" walkable.

Anonymous said...

Walk score is a great service. With the help of it you can estimate your present location and see how walk able your neighborhood is. I have tried and my result is just 25. But how often do we walk nowadays? At http://drivescore.fizber.com/ I have found one more service very similar to this one. It is called Drive Score. With the help of it you can see how close establishments are by car. My drive score is 55.

Line said...

We got our house in Hillsdale NJ a great deal because being a European, I wanted to be able to walk to restaurants, movie theaters, grocery stores and library since I'm used to walking everywhere. Our walking score was only 65 probably because they didn't consider it was walking distance to the next town over which has a much more stores and restaurants, but we walk there all the time. It's lovely to combine excercize with errands when walking to the bank or whatever. As oil prices to up more and more Americans are going to want to move to walkable towns with public transportation.