Walkonomics Sets Out to Create a New Way to Measure Walkability

Looks like Walk Score has some competition in the business of rating walkability.

A new app from Walkonomics seeks to rate streets for walking according to their physical characteristics. Image: ##http://www.walkonomics.com/w/##Walkonomics##

The U.K.-based startup Walkonomics recently unveiled an app that aims to measure the walkability of streets based on physical characteristics. The new Walkonomics app — currently available only for Manhattan, San Francisco and the United Kingdom — uses open source data to rank streets on a scale of one to five.

Whereas Walk Score bases its rankings largely on the accessibility of nearby amenities, Walkonomics looks at sidewalk-level measurements such as street widths, traffic levels, 311 cleanliness reports, crime statistics, and pedestrian injuries. So you could say that Walk Score, which has been a valuable tool in the real estate industry, is geared toward measuring the walkability of neighborhoods, while Walkonomics tells you about the pedestrian-friendliness of specific blocks.

So far Walkonomics has rated some 600,000 streets, factoring in characteristics such as traffic safety, crossing distance, and sidewalk width.

The mobile app, which is available for iPhone and Android, is still rough around the edges, and it will be interesting to see how it evolves in future releases. Walkonomics’ Adam Davies says his company is working to add all major cities in the U.S. This year they hope to provide data for Toronto, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Boston.

  • Splitting hairs, perhaps, but Walkscore doesn’t really measure “accessibility of nearby amenities”, as it still only measures crow’s-flight distance, which leads to distortions, and is best described as measuring “proximity.” If they would roll out their perpetually-beta “Street Smart” version that measures network distance, THAT would measure accessibility. More detailed ranting: http://bikepedantic.wordpress.com/2012/08/25/piling-on-walk-score/

  • Jeff

    Figures that most of Manhattan’s streets–among the most pedestrian-saturated in the nation–get abysmal scores, reflecting the policy of over-accommodating the motoring minority at the expense of the car-free majority.

    If space aliens landed in Manhattan, they would be forgiven for believing that almost everyone drives, given how the public space is designed.

  • Anonymous

    It should also measure elevation change.  Safeway is just two blocks from my house, but it’s an elevation change of almost 200 feet.

  • Anonymous

    It should also measure elevation change.  Safeway is just two blocks from my house, but it’s an elevation change of almost 200 feet.

  • @p_chazz:disqus  “Hilliness” was included when I just looked at Connecticut St. 
    Though I got 2 different parts of it when I looked 2 times, one time Hilliness = 0.5 stars because the notes below said 10% incline, the second time I got a flatter part with 2-3% incline and hilliness score was 2.5ish.

  • Miles Bader

    Hmm, this type of app seem to have the same issue as the original Walk Score, in that it’s very dependent on data-sources that limit it to a few boutique locations…

  • My experience with these sites is they are often well intentioned but often jump past the research and make a number of assumptions about how the authors interpret their communities rather than how those that actually use their communities perceive their environments.  In this case the site references three research papers (the latest 2010) but they are all to a greater or lesser extent revealed preference surveys.   There can be a significant gap between stated preference and revealed preference behaviour and that is why if possible revealed preference surveys are preferred. 
     
    Probably the most comprehensive study undertaken to date on the linkage between engineering and operational variables and the perception of walkability is http://www.nzta.govt.nz/resources/research/reports/452/  “Abley, S and S Turner (2011) Predicting walkability. NZ Transport Agency research report 452. 114pp”.   That study investigated a number of variables that might influence how people perceived their environment across a number of cities and differnet demographics.  The study included 51 variables when walking down the sidewalk and 41 variables when crossing the road.  It then correlated those variables to some 4000 perception surveys and the results were interrogated.  The results are maybe not unsurprising but what is important is the research identified the mathematical relationship between street environment and how people ‘felt’ about their environment.  The study removes the need to include for well-intentioned but misinformed assumptions.  I would encourage the authors of Walkonomics to reflect on this newer research and potentially readjust the algorithms behind walkonomics to reflect this expanded area of knowledge.

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