Web site determines ‘walkability’ of neighborhoods

In this economy everyone is looking for ways to save a few dollars. In many ways this urge to save is helping green causes across the country as people carpool, bike or walk, rather than spending hard earned dollars on the ever increasing price of gasoline.

In this economy everyone is looking for ways to save a few dollars. In many ways this urge to save is helping green causes across the country as people carpool, bike or walk, rather than spending hard earned dollars on the ever increasing price of gasoline. Encouraging these new habits is the Web site walkscore.com. The site rates how walkable an area is based on the amenities close by.

Nationally, Seattle ranked 6th overall. But closer to this area the scores drop dramatically. Locally, Sammamish earned a 60 out of 100, but that score is based off the intersection of 228th Ave. NE and E. Main Street, where few actual residents are located. The Sammamish scores quickly drop when actual residential areas are searched. At NE 16th Street the score drops to 42 with the closest grocery store located .68 miles away. Along NE 24th Place the score dips to 14 out of 100.

For the last seven years the City of Sammamish has been working on a plan which will help change those scores. As part of the Town Center Plan, the city is hoping to rework the city’s central area to increase local amenities over the next 20 years, which would ultimately encourage more pedestrian use.

“The city designated this area, the town center, to try and bring together more urban elements,” said Michael Matthias, the Town Center project manager for the city of Sammamish. “It’s an opportunity for an experience that now, residents would need to drive to.”

The project hopes to encourage bringing more amenities to a centralized location in Sammamish, which in turn will promote pedestrian activity, especially since portions of the plan look to encourage trails and pathways through the area.

“There’s a commitment to making sure its walkable,” said Matthias. He added by providing for open space, mutli-family residential and retail areas, the Town Center will build on itself, thus becoming more and more attractive as more people see the value.

Walkability scores are determined by an algorithm which gives points based on the distance of an amenity in each of the categories, such as grocery store, pharmacy, library and parks, among others. The highest number of points is given when an amenity is closer than .25 miles and declines the further away it gets. No points are given to stores or locations over a mile away. Ratings of 50 or higher mean a neighborhood is at some level walkable, but in some cases using public transportation or a car is necessary. Scores under 50 generally equate to a person needing a car or public transportation to do any of the necessary activities.

In the Issaquah Highlands, a community dedicated to living green, the scores remain in the 20s. At 18th Ave. NE in the Highlands, located south of the town center, the walkability score was 29. While Grand Ridge Elementary was .06 miles away, the closest grocery store, Fred Meyer is too far to walk with more than a bag or two of groceries at 1.62 miles. Further up the hill at NE Ivy Way the score drops to 20, considered to be car dependent. While there are amenities within walking distance, the typical stores needed to buy food or pick up prescriptions are farther away.

The Olde Town neighborhood of Issaquah is considered much more walkable, with NE Birch Street earning an 80.

Jeff Youngstrom, founder of Getting Around Issaquah Together (GAIT), said he lives in downtown Issaquah mostly because of his ability to get around easily without a car.

“My home in downtown Issaquah gets a score of 78. Which is really why I live where I live, though walkscore wasn’t invented (by the smart folks at the Sightline Institute) or implemented until after we moved here,” said Youngstrom. He said one of the biggest challenges for walking in the area is the pattern of housing only developments.

“If there’s no corner store in your neighborhood then there’s no way to leave your car at home. Changing that pattern is a long term project for citizens, city planners and forward looking developers. One of great things about Walkscore is that it makes walkability visible and available to house hunters as a value on which to base their decision of where to live. Over time I expect this added visibility to result in increased property values for homes in walkable areas and increased demand that drives the long-term changes in development patterns needed to bring walkability to all our neighborhoods,” he said. Youngstrom said areas like downtown Issaquah and pockets throughout Sammamish are already good walking areas now.

San Francisco, Calif. was rated the most walkable city in the United States, with New York city and Boston as the top three. In Seattle, Pioneer Square finished at the top with a score of 99.

Youngstrom, encouraged looking outside the box for ways to avoid getting behind the wheel. Another possibility, he said, besides walking from one’s house, is to try the park and walk.

“You may not be able to walk from home to do your errands, but you can simulate the experience by parking once and walking around to do your errands. This has the double-edged benefits of decreasing the time you spend in traffic and limiting the need for parking in front of every store,” he said. “It gives you all the usual benefits of walking…and doing your part to preserve that environment.”