Research Rest-Stop │ What Makes an Area Walkable?

Every Wednesday, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities (MOTU) highlights some interesting research related to or innovations in transportation, sustainability, or energy.


The term, “walkability,” often conjures up a variety of images and perspectives, but most people would agree that walking through a vibrant and bustling neighborhood or business district is much more attractive to pedestrians than a corridor created mainly for automobile travel. According to the 2009 National Household Travel Survey, 10% of all trips made nationally are by foot. Walking is also an important mode of travel for accessing transit facilities and stations. The American Public Transportation Association notes that, according to its analysis of more than 150 on-board transit surveys conducted between 2000 and 2005, roughly 60% of transit trips were taken by people who had walked to the stations.

A new University of California at Irvine study appears to agree with this assessment. Using the South Bay area of Los Angeles County as its case study, the report explores the connection between pedestrian-friendly areas and walking rates. The report finds that neighborhoods in the area that have a central business district or core encourage walking at nearly three times the rates of areas where shops and businesses are located along corridors that primarily support automobile travel. Residents in the neighborhoods with central business cores are also more likely to make shorter trips, which demonstrates the importance of proximity. People are more likely to walk to a shop if they know it’s relatively close than far away or inconvenient to reach.

As we mentioned in our Research Rest-stop post last week, Philadelphia was recently named one of the top five cities in the nation with the highest walk scores. These scores indicate how friendly an area is to pedestrians, including how easy it is to walk around and how safe people feel in doing so. With a compact street network (not to mention a street grid system that helps to orient pedestrians), walking around Philadelphia can be a fun way to take in the sights as well as travel to your destinations in the city easily.

With this in mind, we ventured to Walk Score to see how Philadelphia stacks up. Walk Score ranks Center City as having a 98 out of 100 for its proximity to schools, shopping, restaurants, parks, entertainment, and transit options, all within walking distance. North, South, and West Philadelphia also rank well in these categories, especially on their transit scores, meaning that they provide several different transit options within walking distance. For example, in West Philadelphia, Walk Score notes that one has access to seven nearby routes, including five bus stops and two trolley stops, all within walking distance.

Another good reference is the Philadelphia Pedestrian & Bicycle Plan, which is divided into two phases. Phase One (2008-2010) looked at Roxborough/Manayunk, Germantown/Chestnut Hill, Upper North Philadelphia, Lower North Philadelphia, Center City, and South Philadelphia as its study areas. Phase Two (2010-2012) will focus on West Philadelphia, Southwest Philadelphia, Olney/Oak Lane, River Wards, and Northeast Philadelphia. The Phase I Report notes that the overall plan looks to develop a framework for pedestrian and bicycle planning that will “increase the number and frequency of people walking and bicycling in the City by improving the connectivity, safety, convenience, and attractiveness of the pedestrian and bicycle networks.” The Plan also serves as a landmark in being Philadelphia’s first Pedestrian Plan as well as an update to the City’s Bicycle Network Plan, prepared in 2000. To learn more about the Plan, check out the related reports.


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