walkability, your neighborhood and your health

Walking on Crosby

Years ago I worked with a woman that told me she loved her commute. She had a huge home in the suburbs and left very very early in the morning to come into work. To accommodate traffic she worked odd hours to most of her coworkers. She had a fairly serious chronic condition that demanded regular sleep, good nutrition and exercise to avoid flare ups. She was unable to give herself any of those things but she was able to sit in a car for up to three hours a day. Did she desperately need the money from work? Not really. She admitted as much to me.

Urban sprawl and the car commuting lifestyle add pounds. The average weight of a resident of a walkable neighborhood is seven pounds less than someone living in a sprawling neighborhood.

Car commuting takes away from community and activity. For every 10 minutes a person spends in a daily car commute their community activities drop 10%.

What makes a neighborhood walkable? from WalkScore.com

  • A center: Walkable neighborhoods have a center, whether it’s a main street or a public space.
  • People: Enough people for businesses to flourish and for public transit to run frequently.
  • Mixed income, mixed use: Affordable housing located near businesses.
  • Parks and public space: Plenty of public places to gather and play.
  • Pedestrian design: Buildings are close to the street, parking lots are relegated to the back.
  • Schools and workplaces: Close enough that most residents can walk from their homes.
  • Complete streets: Streets designed for bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit.

Walking places is probably the biggest reason we like living downtown. We don’t go to a lot of live music events at the big arenas a few blocks away, we aren’t terribly into the restaurant scene and I haven’t been to a bar on Granville street in a long, long time. Obviously I don’t feel a big need to be close to the mall or the shops on Robson Street. So why live downtown with all the noise and small space.

We like walking to the bank.

We like walking to the park.

We like grocery shopping on foot, our easy access to the library for books and the childrens activities they put on and being a few short blocks away from the YMCA and their ozonated pool.

The root of this enjoyment? Laziness. Especially now that we have a child. Gotta buckle him in and then out and then back in and then out again. Yep, we’d rather walk because driving seems like a lot of work.

So what are we going to do about our driving laziness on the Isle of Man? We will be getting a car. I was sad about this but it’s actually part of Chris’s remuneration package. On the bright side: we’ll get some use out of it seeing the Isle and, hopefully, other parts of the UK.

While we’ll be rejoining the ranks of car ownership, we will still be able to walk most places. I was ecstatic to check our new home’s Walk Score on WalkScore.com:

  • Walk Score for our Vancouver neighborhood: 97 (out of 100)
  • Walk Score for Douglas, Isle of Man: 93 (out of 100) *I used Douglas Promenade – the main drag for Douglas and where I am told we will look for a flat- to get a walk score.

The Isle of Man also has excellent bus service and train service which I am excited about. I’ll need to ease into right side driving.

Do you know your neighborhood’s Walk Score? Do you think it affects your health and activities? If you car commute how do you make time for activity in your day?

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  • I hear ya sister. I now can’t imagine moving outside the downtown core. Losing all that time, and energy!, to a commute or dragging everything you own around with you on the bus/train just seems exhausting. I’m probably getting too into it; I want work, home, gym and seawall within a 5 block radius.

    • Fingers crossed a job and home in the area work out for you. Of course, I may know of a place available soon that is three blocks from the sea wall….

  • Well, we have a WalkScore of 2 out of 100. :-) So, I don’t think we’ll be able to get rid of our car anytime soon. But I do often think it would be neat to live somewhere we could walk everywhere. I’m excited to hear you’ll be enjoying the best of both worlds in your new move.

    • Upside is you probably have scenic, quiet and safe local walking spaces =)
      Nice to hear from you, Faith and hoping you are resting and recharging. Will be anxiously checking Google Reader for a Minimalist at Home post on June 1st.

  • In the last 10 years I have never lived more than a 20 minute walk from work. (in Brighton, England, Dublin, Ireland and here at home in Vancouver). This is the life! Everytime I talk to people who commute by car I feel pity for them. They don’t know what they’re missing!

    • Impressed that you managed a walking commute in all three cities. Once you have the walking lifestyle it is hard to give up. Of course, I’m not attached to living in a big house or having a basement rec room… yet. I’m told this will change when I have more or older kids.

  • We live 30 minutes away from downtown Austin, TX. My husband works out of the house, and I have a home business, we also homeschool, so we don’t drive much.
    We used to live in a more central area in Austin, but I got tired of smelling the pollution while I was in my backyard pushing my daughter on the swing.
    Where we live, you can only smell the flowers and the clean air. Also, it’s so quiet, you hear the wind blowing and the birds singing. It’s amazing! BUT lately I’ve been driving a lot because we are getting our house ready for sale. Getting rid of things, transporting things, etc. I’m really tired of driving!
    I think that living in the outskirts could work, if that’s the lifestyle you want to have. Quiet, nice neighbors, but not too close, etc.
    Soon, we’ll be living in an RV and I want to stay in central RV parks so we can walk to most places.

    • First, love Austin! Been there twice. What a great city.
      And I hear you on the downfalls of city life. Some days I feel burned out on street people and garbage on the sidewalk. But for now the pros outweigh the cons.
      Love hearing about all these families moving into RVs and going mobile. I’ve just found an interesting family that is doing something similar with international travel. I’ll be interviewing them soon. Excited to learn more about how they manage their “stuff” and being on the move.

  • Unfortunately, we don’t live in a town that is conducive to walking to places of business. Everything is too spread out. But that is what you get for living in a mid-western cow town!

    I drive quite a bit, but most of this is due to dropping off kids at school and taking them to piano and gymnastics. I’ve purposely limited their activities so as not to feel like a taxi and I make sure activities are within a certain radius so that I am not driving 30 minutes to get them to a lesson.

    • Hoping to have the same approach about activities when we’re at that stage. I know there’s a lot of pressure to do “everything” nowadays but I did just fine as an athlete with one sport per season.

  • We just moved to a neighborhood with a walkability score in the 70s from one in the 50s… We like it except we lived close to our favorite grocery store and our current neighborhood is does not have a grocery store.

    Upsides, didn’t change my husbands commute distance (35km) but it cut the time by 1/3 because there is much better access via public transit. We also live 3 blocks for my daughter’s school and about 1.5mi from my work, 2 from my son’s daycare (bikeability… distance excellent, bike friendliness, well, we’re working on that). Considering we go to each of these places daily and grocery shopping only a couple of times per week (1 now), I would say, on balance, we are much better off. Definitely once you count the Nepalese restaurant around the corner ;).

    We’d ditch the car is (1) I didn’t need one occasionally for work and (2) we had accessible car sharing (nearest is very limited and 10 miles away.

    • Interesting to hear about the change in commute time – not distance. Did you know this before you made the move? Was it a factor?
      That is a nice trifecta for work, school and daycare. I never imagined how long drop offs/pick ups took before I had a child in daycare. Henry’s daycare is a ten minute walk away but between getting him ready, the walk, the drop-off (update staff, put his diapers and milk away, etc) and then coming back home, it’s a 40 minute process.

      • Yes, we did know and yes it was a selling point on the move. The main thing was going from 2 transfers to 1 – and now none because he is using 1/2 his commute to train for a bike race.

        Yes, it takes me 1 hr to get from home to my daughter’s school, son’s daycare, and into my office. It sounds kind of depressing that I spend 2+hrs/day commuting but it is about 30 minutes of bike riding — it is about the same by car because of all the stop lights — and 1.5 hrs of “other” including talking to teachers, oooing and awwwing over the latest artwork, etc. So, not so bad but I am looking forward to 1 drop-off again. Simplifies life significantly.

  • That’s fantastic Rachel! Our walk score is a “32: Car-Dependent.” Sigh.

    The upside is that our city is peppered with bike/walking trails that connect all of the parks. So, there are plenty of opportunities for outdoor exercise when the weather permits.

    Your move is getting pretty darn exciting! I love hearing about your plans.

    • Thanks, Jenny. Reading comments here I see that a few people bike in lower walk score areas. Props to them. I bike commuted for six months a few years ago. Loved it. Best part of an awful job.

  • What a great website – the walkscore one. Our score was 38 which seems about right to me.
    I used to live Glasgow city centre (postcode G1) and work a couple of streets away. It was great. A twenty minute walk there and back. Woke me up in the morning and gave me “switch off” time on the way home. Bank, shops, park (Glasgow Green) etc were my neighbours. Only problem was that it was a bit of a food desert as the Merchant City was still being regenerated at that point so only an expensive Tesco Metro supermarket. Looking back, it’s the greenest I ever was without trying.
    Karen (Scotland)

    • Grocery stores are more expensive in our area. I would guess up to 20% more than some of the bigger places in the suburbs. There are definitely a few draw backs to living in the city.
      Like your comment about being green without trying. We’re a bit the same way here. I’m not an environmentalist by any means but we make a lot of green choices: cloth diapers, no car, etc.

  • A walkable city is a liveable city. I’ll take a smaller place in the heart of the city vs a place where I need to drive to do the things I like to do for right now thank you very much:) Never say never though I guess…
    Enjoy that seawall in the sun!

  • I was happy to find that my neighborhood’s walkability score was 86. Not bad for a town that shuts down most of it’s public bus routes after 6 PM! Even though I still have to commute by car to work, I find that being able to walk to my favorite restaurants, bookstores and even my meditation group is always a refreshing breath of sanity.

    Just came across your blog. Thanks for the insights, inspirations and just plain being there!

  • My neighborhood has a Walk Score of NINE. That’s right, NINE! But, we live on the edge of town because my husband works on the edge of town and we’re also close to my mom / work and my daughter’s home since I pick her up several times per week.

    My solution to walkability? I want to live on the road! ha! Seriously, though, I’ve never been very involved with my immediate community and I’d like to be, I think. My husband is a homebody, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t still do it myself.

    And I’d LOVE to be able to walk to the park!!

    • Can’t wait to hear/read more about the move to an RV. It seems to be all the rage lately. Have you read traveltoast.com? Family on the road in an RV. Interesting stuff.

  • very interesting. my little neighborhood got a 77 so I am excited to have a little push in the right direction to do more walking and less driving. QUESTION though: Can you explain how you go about grocery shopping on foot? With two kids(one being a toddler) and a long list I just don’t see how it’s done…but I’d like to know, really :) Our closest grocery is a half mile away….

    • A good stroller and usually two shops a week. We have a decent size stroller basket and one of those hooks to hang grocery bags off the handle bar. I have to do some balancing and make sure the heavy items are in the bottom of the stroller – not on the hook. I’m so used to this system that the few times I grocery shopped with a car (when we had one) I found it to be a total pain.

    • I used to go grocery shopping by foot with 2 toddlers (20 mo. apart) to a store about .5 mile away. I second the good stroller and the somewhat more frequent shopping. It was a nice walk and I would have them both walk (it was safe enough) for part of it to wear them out a bit — naptime or bedtime was a breeze. And, of course, it was a 5 minute bike ride for my husband after the kids got home for the stuff that we didn’t manage to get.

  • Hi Rachel,

    What a fun website! Our walk score is 67… Although my town is very bikable, so that makes it better. It’s 5 minutes on the bike to the supermarkt, 5 minutes to the train, and 30 minutes to work and university on the bike. I lived in the city for 2 years and really liked it. Then I moved with my boyfriend back to our home town. It’s only 10 minutes away by train, but I really miss the benefits of the city! A lot of people who live in our town don’t really understand, because the city is relatively close by, but I miss having everything in walking distance. I know I may be spoiled compared to the long distances between places in the US, but the Netherlands is a very dense country. We are looking forward to moving back in the city in a few years time!

    • Love reading about all these cyclists! Getting inspired. Maybe I will pick up a 2nd bike with a child seat in the Isle of Man.

  • So glad you did this post. My best friend lives in the burbs with 2 cars and was lamenting a week of flat tires and car repairs which totaled $2200. We would take 2 years to spend that on transportation! People think cars are so convenient but with a toddler the bus is much easier and parking in the city gives me heart palpitations just thinking about it. Our neighborhood got an 88 score, but why do so many people drive in Vancouver? It really bothers me. A friend who has lived abroad more pointed out that it is a class thing in NA. Taking transit is seen as something for the poor which it isn’t in Asia and Europe. There are also a lot of crappy areas for transit here but i don’t think people even try. Hopefully gas will keep going up and the mayor will get with the program and provide bikes like Paris. Thanks again!

    • Thanks for your comments, Julia. I also find it easier to not drive with a toddler. I would rather walk, or take Skytrain or the bus.
      I feel like the public transportation in the GVRD is slowly getting better. But, it’s not great. If you leave in Burnaby or Coquitlam, etc, it might take 2 bus transfers plus Skytrain and 90 minutes to get to a job downtown. If traffic isn’t too bad it takes less than 30 minutes. So I understand why some people drive – they want that two hours of the day to do other things.
      Completely agree with the different cultural views of taking transit. It’s the culture of the car here in North America. If you take the bus it means your poor.
      Fingers crossed on getting a bike program like Paris. I think it would be really popular here.

      • I don’t think there is any way in rush hour to get from Burnaby or Coquitlam to downtown Vancouver in 30 mins! But I wasn’t even talking about the burbs- just Vancouver proper drivers. I don’t expect suburbanites to take transit-Vancouverites have less of an excuse. Greenest city? Hilarious.

  • We have a walkscore of 68. I have always told the man if we move it has to be somewhere with better public transportation and the ability to walk more places. I only work 5 miles from home but it’s night shift so biking isn’t an option for me – I’d be afraid I’d fall asleep and drive right off into the river after a 12.5 hour shift!

  • I have always loved walking since I moved to a big city and HAD to walk everywhere (university, no money and too cheap to take transit). We currently score a 58, but with a little motivation that seems too low.
    We have a ‘walking bus’ where all the kids in the neighbourhood walk to school with 1 or 2 parents. And although the ‘strip’ of cafes, shopping, etc is 2 km away, I find it is very manageable to walk there and back.

    That said with 3 kids in various programs at different times, walking is not an option and I find I am always driving between 3:30 and 5:30.

    • When I was at university in Seattle we always walked to parties. Sometimes it was over an hour and I remember my feet killing me. But no way was I paying for a cab – way too expensive for my student budget.
      That ‘walking bus’ idea is really cute!

  • it’s interesting – our score was pretty low (34) but actually, we find it a pretty walkable neighbourhood — my husband bikes or runs to work, we walk to the library and nursery school, and often further afield (including ballet 3 km away when it’s not SNOWING IN APRIL – yeesh). We actually find it easier being minimalist in this neighbourhood than in our previous, highly urban one – there’s no coffee shop or paper store in walking distance here!

    • There are some downsides to living in urban density. For sure one of them is having so many services – coffee shops, restaurants- within easy distance. Easy temptations.
      Another great comment about biking. Maybe there is a bike score calculator out there…

  • Ach, I live in NE Minneapolis we we got a walk score of 48 – “car dependent”. I totally disagree! Yes some things are a bit far to walk, but you could very easily bike, I know lots of people who have no cars here, even with our winters!

  • Oh I wish I wish I wish I lived in a walkable area!!! My street scored 35. We thought that being walking distance from a convenience store would suffice, but it doesn’t. I love walking places. I hate driving. I hate strapping both kids in and out of the car. I really miss being able to walk everywhere.

    The place we lived when we were first married was about 800m from three different supermarkets, 100m from the post office, 200m from the library. We had to drive to work (there was no public transport at all), but on weekends I walked everywhere. But, alas we moved towns. We are seriously considering a move to somewhere within walking distance from work/school/bus routes in the next couple of years because I miss walking.

  • I should add, though, that Walk Score wasn’t entirely accurate. It didn’t include buses for my town (in Australia), and it didn’t recognise any of our parks. The area that we want to move to only scored 48, but for us it would be much much higher because work/school is so close – we would almost only need to drive to church, and only because the buses are too infrequent on Sundays!

  • My neighbourhood’s walkability score is 90, which is actually pretty high for the suburbs. And I do make a point of walking to certain places, like the park and to my daughter’s school and back every day.

    However, I will admit that with slightly longer distances, hills, and two kids, I often opt to take the car. My 2.5-year-old is at the age where he doesn’t really enjoy the stroller so much anymore, but he’s too young to walk really far. And even my 6-year-old is only up to walking so far. We’re often good at getting someplace, but the return trip can be really hard. So I tend to opt for walking when the distances are short, we don’t have anything to carry, and we’re not on a super-tight deadline.

  • Our current neighborhood has a walkability score of 8, but we’re really close to my husband’s work. We used to live in a cabin in the woods and the score there was 0. I would love to live where we can walk where ever we need to go. When our lease is up at this place we’re hoping to find a house to rent in town where the kids and I can walk where we want to go.

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