Growing public interest in walkable communities, but public sector decision-makers still lag behind

By Bill Holloway

Walkscore, the first website to offer easy-to-use walkability ratings for cities, neighborhoods, and individual properties now has some competition. Walkability, a rating system released this month targets private businesses, particularly those in the marketing, social networking, and real estate sectors. Maponics, the company that produces Walkability, built its business on GIS data products that show neighborhood, campus, school attendance, and other boundaries. Walkability’s ratings are based on a broader set of evaluation metrics than those of Walkscore, including factors like crime, intersection density, speed limits, population density, and others (shown here in Maponics’ Walkability vs. Walkscore graphic). Maponics will soon be releasing a transportation product that will provide similar ratings for biking, driving, and public transit.

Walkscore is already widely used in the real estate industry, particularly on websites such as Trulia, and has grown to become a major selling point over the last few years for employers, real estate companies, and rental buildings. Walkability is aiming for a similar market but will not be available directly to the public.

While the real estate industry quickly grasped the value of walkability to prospective renters and home buyers, the public sector has been slower on the uptake. Over the last decade there has been a push for more public sector backing of location efficient mortgages, to permit buyers to purchase more expensive homes in areas where their transportation costs will be lower. (See CNT’s H+T Affordability Index for more on this.) While the Partnership for Livable Communities—an interagency partnership involving HUD, EPA, and US DOT—has identified the expansion of location efficient housing choices as one of its livability principles, the public sector, and transportation agencies, in particular, have been slow to integrate personal transportation costs and multimodalism into their programs. However, with increased public interest and new transportation data sources coming to market, these issues will hopefully begin to play a greater role in public sector decision-making.

Bill Holloway is a Transportation Policy Analyst at SSTI.