Walkability

What does walkability mean?  It seems like a vague concept.  Can it even be quantified?

There are several ways of putting a number on it.  On the one hand, we can examine direct costs; on the other, there are existing rubricks for comparing the walkable status of a given location.

In the first instance, we can compare bussing cost increases to be expected for Linntown and Borough residents who can currently walk to the high school.  Assume two buses, given that 30% of the school population lives within a mile of the school.   The $1.3 million total transportation budget for the district, divided by 4 schools = $325,000, 2 buses = $64,000. $64,000 divided by $325,000 = 19.7%.  This is independent of the fact that in aggregate, the total travel distance for all students to the new location will increase by 30% (see our Location page).

This also only considers the cost impacts for the school day proper and does not reflect impacts for students who currently are able to walk home after sports practices.  Those costs can be even harder to quantify as they are unlikely to be billed directly to the district and will instead fall on the families of those involved in extracurriculars of all sorts.

On the calculated walkability front, both the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program and the website WalkScore.com give insight into how it can be assessed.

The LEED  guidelines for schools are specifically targeted for both new construction and major renovations.  LEED ratings are based on points awarded in accordance with an established rubrick.  Ratings run from basic certification through the highest possible level, Platinum.  In LEED for Schools, 40 points (in addition to satisfying certain prerequisites) are required for certification.  Points are available for community connectivity, walkability, development density and building reuse.  In fact credits for these categories can amount to anywhere from 10 to 25% of the total required for certification.

How are the points for development density or community connectivity assessed?  In part there is a checklist of basic amenities, like banks, retail stores, cafes, etc and the evaluator marks off the number that are within 1 mile and served by continuous sidewalks or pedestrian paths.  This metric paints a stark picture of the way in which a site only 1 1/2 miles from downtown can be accurately characterized as remote and inaccessible.

A similar result can be assessed outside the LEED system by consulting a walkability index.  According to walkscore.com, the existing Lewisburg Area High School site has a walkability score of 88, with only 8% of places scoring higher than it; whereas the Kelly Elementary site scores a 17, with 83% scoring higher.  And that assessment is only on the basis of proximity to amenities, not the provision of safe facilities (also known as Complete Streets).  The former qualifies as highly walkable, the latter is deemed car-dependent, as anyone who has ever attempted to navigate the shoulder and ditches along Hospital Drive on foot can attest.

In recent years, the walkscore site algorithms have been improved and they now also include dynamic mapping which illustrates the differences in travel access by different modes (foot, bike, care or transit) from any given point.  This offers a graphic demonstration of what is being calculated internally and demonstrates the effectiveness of the in town grid versus the more sparse roads further out.  To use the dynamic map, input your town of choice in the search bar and then scroll down to the Travel Time Map.  You can click on a spot on the map to calculate that walk score and then use the sliders to explore the areas served in different travel times.

WalkScore.com also has a component on walkable neighborhoods listing their characteristics and benefits.  While this is not specifically tailored to students, there are additional national organizations providing background on the importance of minimizing teenage driving, the value of incorporating walking into daily routines, and the benefits to schools of such locations.  Those organizations include

Walkable Neighborhoods — http://www.walkscore.com/walkable-neighborhoods.shtml

  • Walkable neighborhoods offer surprising benefits to the environment, our health, our finances, and our communities.
  • Environment: Cars are a leading cause of climate change. Your feet are zero-pollution transportation machines.
  • Health: The average resident of a walkable neighborhood weighs 7 pounds less than someone who lives in a sprawling neighborhood.1
  • Finances: One point of Walk Score is worth up to $3,000 of value for your property. Read the research report.
  • Communities: Studies show that for every 10 minutes a person spends in a daily car commute, time spent in community activities falls by 10%.3

What makes a neighborhood walkable?

  • A center: Walkable neighborhoods have a center, whether it’s a main street or a public space.
  • People: Enough people for businesses to flourish and for public transit to run frequently.
  • Mixed income, mixed use: Affordable housing located near businesses.
  • Parks and public space: Plenty of public places to gather and play.
  • Pedestrian design: Buildings are close to the street, parking lots are relegated to the back.
  • Schools and workplaces: Close enough that most residents can walk from their homes
  • Complete streets: Streets designed for bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit

One Response to Walkability

  1. Pingback: Response to Misconceptions | Downtown Dragons

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