Talking the Walk

Measuring walkability is an important step in urban design.

You already know everything you need to know about walking. You know it is good for you. Those who take a stroll or who walk with a bit more purpose — as commuters — have lower rates of obesity, diabetes and depression. They also tend to have lower blood pressure. And walking even increases the ability to concentrate. To top it off, people-friendly streets also have economic benefits.

You also likely have an intuitive understanding of what makes a neighbourhood or street walkable. Feeling safe is essential. Wide sidewalks, safe intersections with good sightlines for drivers and pedestrians are part of the mix. Intersections that feature bump-outs – a traffic calming device that extends the curb (maybe with paint or pylons rather than pavement — also help). A few trees and other bits of greenery also have benefits for our health, the environment and for the street. Of course, an intriguing range of destinations is always welcome. Streets lined with funky shops, cafes and restaurants are a paradise for walkers — window shopping while in a moving vehicle is not easy.

But even with all this common sense and medical research, until recently there was no good way to measure walkability. Enter, at a moderate pace, Walk Score. The website lets users get a Walk Score for a neighbourhood, street or address.

The Walk Score algorithm considers walking routes, pedestrian friendliness and nearby amenities. It produces a score between 0 and 100. (It also serves up a Transit Score and a Bike Score.) According to the website, at 93, downtown Calgary is a “walker’s paradise.” Sunnyside comes in at 85 and Douglasdale at 41. 

In 2018, Avenue Magazine published “Calgary’s Most Walkable Neighbourhoods.” Is yours in there? Chinatown leads, and most of the others are inner-city communities. More and more, however, new Complete Communities are sporting walkability, such as Seton and Currie Barracks.

A measure of walkability can also serve as the basis of other assessments. One study used Walk Score to determine the effect of walkability on property values. It found that every 1-point increase in Walk Score was associated with a $500 to $3,000 increase in property values (dependant on the local market). These results were evidence “that consumers and housing markets attach a positive value to living within easy walking distance of shopping, services, schools and parks.”

In other words, there is one more reason to keep putting your best foot forward.

March 28th, 2019
Updated: April 15th, 2019

Walk Score measures the walkability of cities and streets.