Walkability matters. Research shows that more walkable neighborhoods tend to be stronger economically, have lower transport costs, and promote better health and well-being.
But, other than living there, how do you know if an area is walkable?
Walkonomics is a new site that aims to build up as comprehensive a picture as possible. Services such as Walk Score already score proximity to restaurants and shops (and more); how long your commute is; and allow you to compare areas. But, according to Adam Davies, that’s only part of the story of walkability. Ideally, you also want to know things like how safe the streets are, whether the sidewalks are wide enough, how clear the signage is, and also–less tangibly–how clean the street is, and whether it’s relaxing and fun. Distance, in other words, is not the only factor–perhaps not even the most important factor.
“Levels of crime. Graffiti. People hanging out on the corner. How easy it is to cross the street. Is it clean? What’s the architecture like? Are there trees? There are a lot of things that affect whether someone’s going to walk a street, take a longer route around, or get in a car,” says Davies, who started coding Walkonomics last year.
Davies, who has produced walkability assessments professionally, says he got the idea from research pointing to all the reasons people don’t choose the walking option: including a lack of street lights, and a lack of easy crossing points.
Currently covering about 600,000 streets in the U.K. and U.S., the site is based on a mixture of government-sourced open data, and crowd-sourced information from users. Streets are scored across eight categories, based on data like traffic activity and crime statistics. Users can then give their own impressions, shifting the scores over time.
Davies is betting that urban planners are not the only people interested in tracking, and hopefully improving, walkability.
“In the past, it’s just been experts and interest groups. But really everyone lives on a street and they’re interested in at least one street, if not a few streets. This site is saying: ‘let’s get everyone involved and crowd-source something better.'”