Walk score

There is an app out there called Walk Score ,  which rates locations by accessibility by foot, transit, and bike.

Their algorithm does take into account actual walking routes or walkable streets as opposed to simply drawing a radius around a point, since a radius may have unwalkable segments due to geography, large land uses, freeways, or most probably, a for-people-who-drive-only maze of traffic calming crescents and cul de sacs.

A few days ago we saw how developers market their projects in Seattle, using transit advertising to grab transit users:



This sign is also from Seattle. It is a sidewalk sandwich board that boasts about their ideal location for those who want a walkable neighbourhood.

aug 27 2014 228


I’m not sure if walking scores is their main business, ie promoting healthier city choices, or if its merely a real estate finding service with a gimmick. Or both.

I plopped in some Ottawa addresses and discovered some interesting factoids.

The ICON and cluster of Big Condo towers at Preston and Carling has a 82/100 walk score, only 59 for transit, and 96 for bike. Hmm. The low transit score surprises me, after all the OTrain Trillium line is right there with trains every 7 minutes; there are two major bus routes with frequent service, etc. The bike score of 96 is described as “flat as a pancake”. I guess it couldn’t see Carling going up hill to Bronson, or Carling going up hill towards the Civic. There is, of course, the trillium trike path nearby.

I wondered at the high walk score, given the lack of grocery stores nearby and the lack of drug stores. Oh, it seems they count corner stores as grocery stores. Hmm. And does anyone really rate Carling Avenue as a walker’s paradise?

The City gets a base score of 54 for walkability.
Of course, we don’t set measurable targets for improving things like walkability or sidewalk width / congestion or useable storefront frontages, even though such measures exist.

Evidence based planning? Bah.

The ideal Ottawa neighbourhood for “progressive urbanistas” is  Somerset (not the ward, the area from Kent to the Canal). It gets walk score 99, transit 93, and bike 97.

The Preston-Somerset intersection, “Piazza Marco Polo”,  where Little Italy meets Chinatown, is rated at 91, 88, and 100.

Hintonburg gets 91, 92, 87.

Westboro’s Our Lady of the Condos development in the Ashcroft Canyon scored 91, 78, and 100. Only 91 even though its a short stroll from one of the biggest grocery and drug stores in the city and on a thriving shopping street?  I begin to wonder if the score even notices if there is a sidewalk or the nature of the adjacent land uses. Obviously a narrow sidewalk glued to the curb on Carling in front of Carlingwood Mall is far different from a pedestrianized sidewalk along a traditional main street.

Of course I typed in my own address, and got 86,89, 97. I was surprised to discover I live within a short stroll of a grocery store(s). Provided my grocery list consists of lottery tickets, cigarettes, and giant bomb bottles of coke, then that’s true. And this isn’t to demean Luciano’s or other specialty stores, but they’re not suitable for weekly groceries.

I’m one block from the transitway (and Mayor Jim is moving it much closer in a few months; I suppose I should be grateful).   I’m surprised the transit score isn’t 100. And that walking score doesn’t quite account for the shear unwalkability of Albert Street (but that might change if the currently-approved-post-2018 compleat-street plan actually gets implemented).

Reducing complex urban environments and the myriad of resident wants to a single score is at its heart a good idea, but unlikely to be more than a first indicator to a particular neighbourhood.

Maybe Walk Score 10.3 will be a better version.

So go back to the pictures at the top. Seattle developers can market their developments based on accessibility to transit and walkable neighbourhoods. Can Ottawa’s?


update, 3 April 2019: https://www.redfin.ca/how-walk-score-works



2 thoughts on “Walk score

  1. Walk Score is better at measuring proximity than actual walkability. It can tell you if a place is totally suburban, but once you get even into strip mall territory its idea of walkability is very generous. For example it will tell you that 2745 Iris Street is 52% walkable https://www.walkscore.com/score/2745-iris-st-ottawa-on-canada (2745 Iris is a generic suburban office tower dropped in a parking lot by a highway/street intersection) and it includes in the “walkability” places that are on the other side of the Queensway, which are only reachable by crossing the Greenbank-Pinecrest overpass, a truly terrible pedestrian experience.

  2. Yes, the tool is a bit crude. Your point about corners stores being scored like grocery stores is matched by an example of a driving school along Rideau being equal to an elementary school.

    One thing I like is its invitation to update the business roster, so it can be more up-to-date (although the available categories are still too broad).

    As to their motivations, I have followed them for several years and communicated with them. They are based in Seattle and are not just part of a real-estate company.

    And, the national real-estate listing in Canada include the scores for each property, but not the Ottawa Real-Estate Board, though.

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