Last week Reuters posted a couple of stories about how healthy, walkable neighborhoods can prevent Type 2 diabetes. A healthy neighborhood with walkable sidewalks can reduce the risk for diabetes by as much as 38 percent. Not only are walkable neighborhoods healthier, they are safer for the kids and they have higher property values.
So how do you find out how walkable your neighborhood is? One way is to go to Walk Score, a site developed by Seattle’s Front Seat software company. Type your address (including city and zip code) into the search bar, and the site will give you a score based on how close you live to schools, grocery stores, libraries, movie theaters, restaurants and other key points. For example, an address in downtown Sitka has a walkability score of 89 (very walkable), an address in downtown Douglas has a score of 62 (somewhat walkable), an address in the Spenard area of Anchorage has a score of 45 (car-dependent), and an address off the Delany Park Strip in Anchorage has a score of 86 (very walkable).
There are some flaws in the software, for example it needs to better distinguish between a true grocery store and a corner convenience store. But the Walk Score blog recently announced that thanks to a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation the site will be going open source, which will allow people to fine-tune the walkability scores. The new open source feature also will allow people to enter public transportation stops and other features. The Sightline Daily blog also announced the new open source feature for Walk Score, and it introduced a new site out of Philadelphia called Walkshed that will produce similar walkability scores (this is a new site and so far only Philadelphia addresses can be rated).
If your neighborhood has a high score, congratulations. If it doesn’t, how do you make the score better? First you might want to do a walkability survey, where you walk the neighborhood streets and rate various items such as the sidewalks and any barriers to walking. The Health By Design organization from Indiana has a walkability survey tool on its site (opens as a PDF file). Several other programs from Safe Routes To School to America Walks, the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, the Alliance for Biking & Walking, Complete Streets and the National Center for Biking and Walking have tools to help you make your community more walkable.