A few months ago I wrote about how I’ve been walking to more places near my house this year, and later how walking to get lunch was a nice fringe benefit of working from home. Now J.D. Roth has written his own entry on walkable neighborhoods.

J.D. emphasizes his most important point:

To me, a “walkable neighborhood” doesn’t mean a neighborhood where people could walk to-and-from stores; it means a neighborhood where people do walk to-and-from stores. That’s a subtle but important difference.

I agree totally. While I could walk to more places in my area, in reality I mostly head into our city’s downtown, which is much more interesting than any of the local neighborhoods (and is, indeed, one of the nicest downtowns in the county, in my opinion). But it’s a 30-minute walk away, and I’m rarely motivated to spend a 60-minute round trip just commuting to and from downtown. In reality, I only walk there when I’m going down to catch the train up to San Francisco. Plus, downtown has abundant parking. So I drive there instead. I think the presence of downtown in easy driving distance, but somewhat more difficult walking distance, greatly reduces the walkability of my own neighborhood. Consequently, although was have a few little strip malls within half a mile of my house, I think the presence of downtown dissuades potential restauranteurs and retail stores from opening up in my area. They’d rather be downtown, where the people are.

Serious walkers – and I know several – may laugh at my being daunted by a 30-minute walk one-way, but honestly my time is more important to me than either getting some walking in or reducing my environmental impact by driving less. I’d rather spend that time biking, and I tend not to use my bike to commute, except to work, for various reasons. Also, my environmental footprint is already fairly small; I drive a Honda Civic, and only put around 7K miles on it a year, which is a minuscule impact compared to most of my fellow Americans, I’d guess.

The other neat thing in J.D.’s post is a reference to Walk Score, which will compute the “walk score” for any address. I both love automated computation engines like this, and view them with suspicion. That doesn’t stop me from playing around with them, though, so, I checked out walk scores for many of the places I’ve lived:

  • The house where I grew up has a score of 62, “somewhat walkable”. This surprised me, since the nearby town center has a Starbucks, grocery store, hardware store, post office, bank, and subway station. Not much retail or dining, though, which might hurt it.
  • The apartment I lived senior year of college has a score of 86, “very walkable”. It was a 30-minute walk from campus, and a 5-minute walk from the New Orleans streetcar line, plus various other stores. It didn’t feel quite this walkable, though.
  • The apartment I lived in during grad school in Madison has a score of 86 too. It was right next to a 7-11, a 20 minute walk from downtown, and had many other things in easy walking distance. It was a great location.
  • The apartment I moved to after grad school has a score of 89, also “very walkable”. It was close to a grocery store and a 10-minute walk from downtown, so this makes sense.
  • The apartment I lived in when I first moved to California has a score of 49, “car dependent”. It was a 10-minute walk from downtown, and downtown was a pretty desolate place at the time (it’s better now, including having a light rail station). But yeah, getting around was difficult. I hated the location, mainly because all my friends lived at least a 20-minute drive away. (The apartment was nice enough, though.)
  • My current home has a score of 75, “very walkable”. This seems high to me, although I agree the area is not really car-dependent.

As you might guess, when we next move Debbi and I would like to get closer to downtown. Though overall our current place is a pretty good location. And it has another advantage that’s the exact opposite of walkability: Outstanding freeway access.