How do you measure walkability?

by Jill Locantore on May 21, 2015

Different tools provide varying perspectives on Denver neighborhoods

Colfax east of Zenobia detached sidewalk

How walkable is the West Colfax neighborhood?  It depends on how you measure it.

 

By Jennifer Addair, WalkDenver Board Member

Peter Drucker said “What gets measured gets improved.” Measuring roadways and vehicle throughput is standard, but measuring the pedestrian environment is relatively new. Fortunately, cities and other organizations are constantly improvingmeasurement of walkability. In Denver, we have at least three tools to evaluatewalkability: the WALKscope tool developed by WalkDenver and PlaceMatters, Walk Score, and  a Neighborhood Walkability Analysis conducted by the City and County of Denver’s Department of Community Planning & Development (CPD).

  • WALKscope takes an “on the sidewalk” look at walkability by gathering crowd-sourced data about the actual walking experience, focusing on sidewalks, pedestrian amenities, intersections, and volume of pedestrians.
  • Walk Score’s methodology examines the number and variety of amenities, how long it would take to walk to those amenities, population density, block length, and intersections.
  • CPD’s Neighborhood Walkability Analysis analyzes similar factors such as population and employment density, block size, distance to parks, grocery stores, or community facilities, and the percent of an area with mixed-use zoning.

Denver’s West Colfax neighborhood shows how walkability ratings can vary between different sources, and the importance of examining a variety of data points.

According to Walk Score, most locations in the West Colfax neighborhood are  “Somewhat Walkable” or “Car Dependent”, with a pocket of “Very Walkable” ratings around 17th and 18th between Federal and Irving. The Walk Scores for this neighborhood are positively impacted by proximity to parks, schools, dining and groceries, while access to shopping, entertainment, and ability to run errands without a car generally decreased Walk Scores.

Walk Score MapThe West Colfax Neighborhood on Walk Score

Source: https://www.walkscore.com/CO/Denver

Looking at the pedestrian experience via WALKscope data adds another dimension. For example, sidewalk and intersection quality are rated quite low along Sheridan even though Walk Score indicates this area is “Somewhat Walkable”, and the “VeryWalkable” pocket between Federal and Irving rates only moderately on sidewalk and intersection quality.

WALKscope MapSidewalk Ratings of the West Colfax Neighborhood on WALKscope 

Source: http://www.walkscope.org/

In CPD’s Neighborhood Walkability Analysis, West Colfax receives a high aggregated score. Access to community facilities (schools, libraries, and recreation centers), full service grocery stores, and smaller block size provided high walkability, while low or medium walkability ratings included population density, low employment density, mixed-use zoning, and park/trail/open space access.

CPD Walkability Map

CPD Walkability Legend

Source: CPD Neighborhood Walkability Analysis 

So how should you measure walkability? First, we must acknowledge that each data source has merits and limitations and that identifying human motivation and environmental factors is incredibly complex. Used together, these data sets with their different research and data collection methods create rich and complementary layers of information. We can’t think of walkability as a single score, index, or rating. Instead, let’s envision walkability measurement as a broad toolbox helping us to improve the pedestrian experience.

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