How Walkable is Your Neighbourhood?

As issues like obesity and global warming continue to dominate news headlines, more and more families are re-evaluating their own lifestyles.

Many of us now eat healthier, more local food, produced with fewer chemicals and less packaging.

And many of us are making a focused effort to get more exercise and spend less time sitting – whether that be on the couch, at a desk or in a vehicle.

This is not just good for your waistline: there is ample research showing that commuting is expensive and time-consuming, and can lead to very real health hazards like musculoskeletal pain, depression and divorce.

And perhaps more to the point, other studies show that a sedentary lifestyle will eventually kill you.

Sitting = Death

Sitting = Death

How, then, to increase the time we spend walking, and decrease the amount of time we spend in our cars?

Realistically, most of us, especially families with kids, do some combination of walking and driving every day to accomplish the things we need to do.

But what if you discovered that you could actually walk to get groceries, pick up a prescription, visit your accountant or go to the park with the kids?

There’s a fascinating website called Walk Score that can help you do that: just type in any address (your own, or a neighbourhood where you’d like to live) and it will calculate how walkable or car-dependent it is. It works for any address in the US, Canada, or Australia.

I love it because I love numbers and metrics. Realtors love it, since the more walkable/accessible a location is, the more likely it is to sell.

So by way of example, let’s take a look at the Walk Score of the neighbourhood where my family and I live, in downtown Vancouver.

The Walk Score of where I currently live in downtown Vancouver.

The Walk Score of where I currently live in downtown Vancouver: this is what a good score looks like.

We can see that this area scores high in all three vectors – Walking, Public Transit, and Bike Riding. For me, this means that even though we own the requisite/stereotypical minivan, it often sits idle for a week or more without being driven once.

Now, let’s have a look at the Walk Score for the neighbourhood where I grew up, about 30 minutes by car outside of downtown Vancouver.

The Walk Score for my childhood home -- clearly not ideal.

The Walk Score for my childhood home — clearly not ideal.

Finally, let’s find the score for a typical neighbourhood in North Vancouver, where I lived years ago. It’s about 20 minutes by car from downtown Vancouver.

North Vancouver's score. Not bad, but not ideal.

North Vancouver’s score. Not bad, but not ideal.

Clearly, downtown Vancouver, where we live now (the first graphic) is the winner in our little study: it’s pretty much the most walkable, bikeable and transit-friendly area in all of the Greater Vancouver Area. There’s actually not a denser, more accessible or more connected neighbourhood within a hundred miles of where we live – and believe me, I’ve looked!

In practical terms, this makes a huge difference to my family’s quality of life, not only in terms of fitness, but also from a health and sanity perspective. We do our daily errands on foot, walk to our favourite parks, bump into friends along the way (something you don’t want to do in a car!), walk to local events, and generally spend plenty of time outdoors.

Several of the kids walking back from Science World recently (see shoreline).

The kids can actually walk to Science World and home again. We love this.

Most days, it’s not uncommon for our family (including my youngest, who’s just two) to log 10 kilometres on foot without even noticing.

So for us, living in and taking advantage of Vancouver’s walkability, bike lanes and world class public transit is a “no brainer” way to stay healthy.

Have a look at your own Walk Score, and let me know what you find out! I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Adrian Crook is a father of five living in beautiful downtown Vancouver, Canada. When he's not mobbed by his brood, he runs a successful videogame design consulting business.