Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Time in traffic and walkable communities

I just saw a poll on Facebook about "How much time do you spend in traffic a day?" One thousand Facebook members responded. Here are the results:
- More than 2 hours: 10%
- 1 to 2 hours: 31%
- 30 minutes to an hour: 28%
- Less than 30 minutes: 23%
- None: 9%
There are breakdowns by age and gender, but not by urban/suburban, etc. The only clue the poll gives of geography is that the "audience" was Los Angeles, CA. So that may skew the results in terms of applicability nationwide, but since LA is largely a suburban megalopolis, this may be a fairly good reflection of what suburban commuting patterns are like in major metropolitan areas. This is not a scientific survey, of course, but I think the results are telling.

I also just came across Walk Score (HT: Life Is Ministry - thanks, Matthew!). Walk Score is a site that calculates how walkable your neighborhood community is, based on how pedestrian-friendly the street layout is, the proximity to parks and public space, access to community institutions, etc. Go to Walk Score, plug in your address and see how your neighborhood does.

My neighborhood ranked as 54 out of 100, which is "Some Walkable Locations: Some stores and amenities are within walking distance, but many everyday trips still require a bike, public transportation, or car." Oddly enough, our previous home just two blocks away gets a score of 57. The apartment one suburb over where we lived when we first got married is 55. The neighborhood where I grew up in the suburbs of Minneapolis is 29. I remember walking quite a lot there, but that was primarily before I was old enough to drive. (Walk Score also lets you score some celebrity homes, like Bill Gates's house [6], the White House [91] and Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt's pre-breakup house [8]. One of the most iconic suburban homes, the Brady Bunch house, gets a very walkable 80.)

Here are Walk Score's comments about why walking matters:

Walkable neighborhoods offer surprising benefits to our health, the environment, and our communities.

Better health: A study in Washington State found that the average resident of a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood weighs 7 pounds less than someone who lives in a sprawling neighborhood1. Residents of walkable neighborhoods drive less and suffer fewer car accidents, a leading cause of death between the ages of 15 - 45.

Reduction in greenhouse gas: Cars are a leading cause of global warming. Your feet are zero pollution transportation machines.

More transportation options: Compact neighborhoods tend to have higher population density, which leads to more public transportation options and bicycle infrastructure. Not only is taking the bus cheaper than driving, but riding a bus is ten times safer than driving a car2!

Increased social capital: Walking increases social capital by promoting face-to-face interaction with your neighbors. Studies have shown that for each 10 minutes a person spends in a daily car commute, time spent in community activities falls by 10 percent3.

Stronger local businesses: Dense, walkable neighborhoods provide local businesses with the foot traffic they need to thrive. It's easier for pedestrians to shop at many stores on one trip, since they don't need to drive between destinations.


Mark Goodyear said...

Our town scored a 29. Unwalkable.

Interesting thing about small towns--they aren't very walkable. The life of the town is in concentrated pockets, the houses are on the edges.

On the other hand, it's very bikable.

Anonymous said...

My neighborhood scored a 60. I live in a small town as well (14000 peeps). Funny thing is there are hardly any sidewalks in Siloam Springs, and streets are narrow to boot. Yeah, it's small and we live close to downtown (though there aren't any grocers really nearby).

"5th avenue, new york, ny" is a 95 out of 100.

Al Hsu said...

The Walk Score site also lists the apartment building for the TV show Friends in downtown NYC, and it gets 100 out of 100.

I just thought to run the Walk Scores for my workplace and its previous location. My company used to be in the downtown of my local suburb, and that location gets a score of 88. Its current location in an office park in a neighboring suburb gets a score of 54. And the contrast is quite distinct; at our old location, we were just down the block from the public library, the post office, an independent bookstore and various local mom & pop restaurants and businesses. So it was easy to walk to lunch or get coffee. Now we're a bit of a hike away from any eating establishments, so if we want to go out for lunch, we typically need to drive. And it's a far less aesthetically interesting area - despite a nice park not too far away, the main things in the area are car dealerships.

Dan Benson said...

My neighborhood scored a 66. Which I actually think is low. We live where we live because we can pretty much walk anywhere we need.

By the way. I like your website. Haven't read the book yet, but will.

Unknown said...

My new neighborhood scored a low 38 but it sure beats my hour commute! Interesting ideas for thinking about your living spaces.

Anonymous said...

Hi Al,

I'm so sorry to be off-topic but i couldn't figure any other way to ask you this. I noticed you were reading Mouse Morality recently and was wondering if it was any good, and also if you know of any other similar books on Disney (that doesn't fall into the incomprehensible jargon of media/cultural studies)? Thanks.

Al Hsu said...

Brian - Mouse Morality is definitely an academic text, using cultural studies/rhetorical analysis and such. Quite substantive but fairly accessible, I think, and has some helpful insights. But not for the average person in the pew or for a small group discussion; you need to be a fairly motivated reader, and it helps to have some background in media criticism or communication studies.

Another academic book that I read some years ago is The Magic Kingdom of God, which looked at Disney (and its theme parks in particular) as an alternate secular kingdom. Very good analysis and insights into Disney's appeal as the "happiest place on earth," that they're tapping into humanity's latent spiritual longings for a kingdom of shalom and fulfillment.

A much more popular kind of book is The Gospel According to Disney, by Mark Pinsky. This one is kind of fun and goes through every Disney animated film made, but some of the observations are pretty obvious, not much deeper than typical movie reviews.

Those are the main ones that come to mind. Hope that helps!