WALK THE WALK: In many parts of the country, walking has become as quaint a pastime as spinning yarn or playing the bagpipes. Between 1977 and 1995, the number of daily walking trips taken by adults declined by 40 percent — while more than a quarter of all car trips are now shorter than a mile. Those under-a-mile journeys fall into the zone that new urbanists call “walkshed”: the area a person can reasonably cover on foot. People whose walksheds teem with shops and restaurants have more reason to walk than those whose don’t, so it was only a matter of time before someone tried to quantify a neighborhood’s pedestrian-friendliness.
Last summer, a trio of Seattle software developers started walkscore.com, which calculates the number of potential destinations within walking distance of any given address and then produces a rating. If your neighborhood scores 90 or above, you can easily live there without a car; if it scores under 25, you’ll be driving to the backyard. More than a million addresses were searched in the site’s first month. Matt Lerner, one of the site’s developers, knew the concept had arrived when a condo in Seattle hung out a gigantic banner that said “Walk Score 100.” “People react really negatively to phrases like ‘density,’ ” he says, “but they react really positively to phrases like ‘walkability.’
”Walk Score’s popularity may be a sign that walking is making a comeback, fueled by both rising gas prices and widening waistlines. An economics researcher at Washington University in St. Louis suggests that raising gasoline prices by $1 a gallon would reduce American obesity by 9 percent. Another study posits that if every American spent 30 minutes a day walking or cycling instead of driving, we would collectively cut carbon emissions by 64 million tons and shed more than three billion pounds of excess flab.
All of this sounds great in theory, but most people find that their good intentions falter when faced with the extra time it takes to walk. Yet Alan Durning, an environmental researcher whose blog about living without a car inspired Walk Score, argues that walking may be the ultimate timesaver. He cites a British study that suggests that for every minute you walk, you live about three minutes longer. “You’re not using time,” Durning argues; “you’re generating time.”