Walk Score and Your Community

som_blog_walkscoreWalk Score was founded in 2007 to promote walkable neighborhoods and to make it easier for individuals to evaluate walkability and transportation options in a given area. The Walk Score index assigns a walkability score to each property and community on a scale of 0 to 100 with a 0 meaning “car dependent” and 100 meaning “Walker’s Paradise”. Walk Score users can look up scores for specific addresses or by city. Accessing and using the Walk Score website is free for anyone, but professional tools are also available for realtors to use in their property listings.

While Walk Score may seem like just another interesting application, the scores are having a documented effect on real estate values. One study suggested a $500 to $3000 increase in property value, depending on the location, for each additional point assigned to a property’s score. Walkability is continuing to become a more prevalent factor in both home buying decisions and the placement of new businesses. In fact a Seattle based real estate broker, Redfin, noticed this potential and purchased Walk Score in 2014.

Walkability scores are calculated using factors such as available neighborhood amenities (grocery stores, businesses, restaurants, public transit), distance to those amenities, average block length, and population density. Unfortunately the current version does not take into account other important factors such as the condition and accessibility of sidewalks or the overall walking experience.  The calculated distance between locations represents the shortest distance between A and B, although the shortest distance between A and B may be through an un-inviting alleyway or up a seemingly Everest-like hill. Both individual properties and community areas can receive scores, with the area score being an average of the surrounding property scores.

What can you do if you do not feel Walk Score is accurately representing your city or town? First, it is important to note that scores are not exactly given on a city or town-wide basis. While the area of Somersworth along NH 108 is rated as “car dependent”, the Somersworth downtown is rated as “very walkable”. Communities are often split into multiple areas by the website’s search engine and it is important make this distinction when you are trying to increase the score of a particular area, such as the downtown. Secondly, Walk Score’s scoring algorithm can only work with the information made available to it. This means that although your community may have a medley of local grocers and trendy restaurants, if they are not on the map, they are not factored in.

WalkScore encourages users to update the map of their community with the locations of new or previously un-tagged amenities. Upon navigating to your community and opening the map view, you will see the option to “add a place” in the bottom right hand corner. Log in using your Facebook or Google account and add the location, along with any other applicable contact information or comments. The changes may take up to 24 hours to appear in the map and even longer to be factored into score calculations.

Walk Score has continued to grow and improve in the years since its creation, with both bike scores and transit scores being added to the available assessments. The calculation method has also been reworked to include block lengths and street connectivity. This version, known as “Street Smart”, replaces the “as the crow flies” distance calculations seen in the previous version.In the future it would be great to see a more comprehensive look at walkability, one that ties in accessibility and the walking experience.As it stands now Walk Score is both a step in the right direction and a helpful way for planners, realtors, and community members to gain a sense of where their community stands in the world of alternative transportation options. Combined with infrastructure data, traffic data, and community input, Walk Score could prove to be a powerful tool in planning for transportation projects.

I encourage you to try the site out for yourself. Take a virtual tour of the neighborhood, or see how your home scores. If you need assistance, or would like more information, please feel free to contact SRPC Planning Technician Tom Brown at tbrown@strafford.org.