New Urbanism incorporates neighborhood walkability as one of the pivotal factors in improving quality of life as well as working toward conservancy. Considering that obesity is one of the rising health problems in the United States, walkability measures are also used to promote healthy living. Walkability measures in a neighborhood usually include calculating distances to amenities like schools, grocery stores, parks, libraries, etc. Considering the rise of online mapping services like Google Maps and cross referencing of various locations via innovative mashups, it was only a while before someone came up with a tool to measure the walkability of your neighborhood.
Walk Score is an extremely user-friendly website that lets you measure how walkable is your neighborhood (although the tag line mistakenly mentions how walkable is your house). The website even lists the various benefits of walking; all of which I agree with. All you do is plug in your home address and the website spits out a score between 0 and 100 to measure walkability of your neighborhood; with 0 being completely unfriendly and 100 being extremely friendly. So naturally I put in my home address and got the following result:
As you observe, the tool gave my neighborhood got a score of 54 which is not bad considering I live in a Texan town where everyone loves their cars especially if it is a pickup. Most of the amenities listed are within a mile [a one-mile walk is considered as a standard].
However, I must mention that I live in a relatively amenity-friendly neighborhood and the location was one of the primary factors in choosing this residence. At the same time, if you actually live in their neighborhood, walking to the grocery store isn’t as easy as it sounds even when the measured distance is 0.29 miles. Why? Lack of sidewalks and pedestrian-friendly crosswalks spanning major roads. If you have to go to HEB Grocery, the store mentioned on the map, you have to cross Texas Avenue which has been perennially under construction ever since I got to College Station. Moreover, due to the construction mess, you simply cannot dream of crossing over to the other side without your heart pounding in fear of being run over. This actually is quite a big deterrent to walking to nearby amenities even if you want to. Thus proximity isn’t the only factor in measuring walkability and urban features that actually promote such behavior are important as well.
Proximity to the Wolf Pen Creek park however has made the city of College Station build sidewalks on the way to the park but these are purely meant for exercise or recreational purposes. I would like the city to put in sidewalks not only for recreational purposes but also to facilitate walking to the stores. Like they say, build and they’ll come actually makes perfect sense in creating a walkable community. If you do not have sidewalks, how can you expect people to walk even if the distance is not much?