Walk Score: Slate series on pedestrian issues weighs validity of widely used metric

Tom Vanderbilt, in the 3rd part of his excellent 4-part series on pedestrianism and walking in America, focuses on Walk Score, “the company that tracks the “walkability” of locations around the world.”

From What’s Your Walk Score?; The company that puts a number on walkability:

Walk Score is a website that takes a physical address—enter yours here—and computes, using proprietary algorithms and various data streams, a measure of its walkability. More recently it’s started tracking how transit-friendly neighborhoods are too. What drives the score is choice and proximity—the more amenities (restaurants, movie theaters, schools) you have around you, and the closer they are, the higher your Walk Score.

As Vanderbilt discusses (while punctuating his piece with myriad examples), Walk Score makes assumptions about walkability based on its algorithms that might not actually be borne out by experience.

Still, I’d argue that it’s a useful number in terms of planning and neighborhood analysis.

My block of Thomas Square has a Walk Score of 83

My walk score (I live on 32nd St. near Bull) is 83.

BUT but but . . . the list of bars near me does not include the one that I visit the most, and is closest to me: the lounge at American Legion Post #135. And the bar next door at Local 11 ten (one downstairs and Perch upstairs) aren’t listed. The Sentient Bean has regularly entertainment but isn’t listed under those amenities. Bull Street Eatery and Cafe Florie aren’t listed, but they’re closer than most of the restaurants on the list.

My parents live on the south side of the river, so they only have a Walk Score of 77 (still "very walkable")

In other words, my score should probably be higher than it is.

My parents moved a number of years ago into downtown Frankfort, Kentucky from the rural area where they previously lived. My mother walks around downtown almost daily, but neither of them walks often to services. They live a tenth of a mile from a small grocery, but they routinely do their serious grocery shopping at a Kroger in the suburbs. Still, it’s clearly a walkable neighborhood — and it clearly has very easy car trips if residents are not willing or able to walk.

Out here at Armstrong where I teach, the Walk Score is 62 (“somewhat walkable”) but it’s hardly walkable given the way that Abercorn Street is designed. That’s something that the campus should address.

Savannah as a whole has a Walk Score of 47, far lower than even Armstrong’s.

Here’s what that looks like on the map — with the higher numbers in green.

Savannah's average Walk Score is 47

Ironically, with an average Walk Score of 53, Atlanta does better by these metrics than Savannah. That’s because many neighborhoods in the urban core are rated as highly walkable, even as the city has become widely known for its sprawl and car-dependency.