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Seattle Times news librarian Gene Balk crunches the numbers

November 6, 2013 at 6:33 PM

Is Seattle getting less walkable?


Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

For Seattle, just being a walkable city isn’t good enough.  We want to be No. 1, the most walkable city in the nation. At least that’s the goal plainly stated in the Seattle Pedestrian Master Plan.

But we may be falling farther behind on that lofty goal than we thought.

Seattle’s walkability score actually declined this past year, according to the 2014 rankings of America’s most walkable cities, released on Wednesday by Walk Score.

The Seattle-based company, which scores thousands of cities and neighborhoods based on how convenient they are for someone on foot, releases new scores each year and ranks America’s top cities for pedestrians.  Last year, Seattle placed sixth with a score of 73.7 out of a possible 100.   We’re still in the top 10 this year, but we dropped down to eighth with a score of just 70.8.  Miami and Washington, D.C., leapfrogged over Seattle in the rankings.

So what happened — have we really become a less pedestrian-friendly city in the past 12 months?

Not necessarily, according to Matt Lerner, Walk Score’s chief technology officer.

In order to increase the accuracy of its scoring, Walk Score used an improved algorithm this year. With better data on cities and neighborhoods and a more sophisticated method of analysis, the new scores are better indicators of a location’s true walkability, Lerner said.

So Seattle’s lower score in the latest rankings doesn’t mean the city is actually less walkable than it was previously.  More likely, it could mean that last’s year score was artificially inflated.

Most of  the top-10 cities from last year did not suffer like Seattle did under the new scoring.   In fact, seven of them saw their scores improve. Besides Seattle, only two had a lower score in the new rankings: San Francisco, which lost one point but remained in the No. 2 spot behind New York; and Minneapolis, which fell out of the top 10.

Downtown tied as Seattle's most walkable neighborhood for 2014 (PHOTO: STEVE RINGMAN / THE SEATTLE TIMES)

Downtown tied as Seattle’s most walkable neighborhood. (PHOTO: STEVE RINGMAN / THE SEATTLE TIMES)

Even as Seattle’s overall score declined this year, some city neighborhoods saw big gains.  Downtown’s walk score jumped by 5 points to 98.4; the neighborhood moved from ninth place last year into a tie with Denny Triangle as Seattle’s most walkable neighborhood.  And Pioneer Square vaulted into the No. 3 spot, up from 18th last year, with a score of 96.8 — a 10 point gain.

Of course, not all this movement was simply due to a change in how the scores are calculated. Some of it reflects the actual growth in downtown Seattle, and the increase in new businesses. Walk Score chief executive Josh Herst points to the recent impact of Amazon’s growing, pedestrian-friendly campus as a catalyst for boosting South Lake Union up the ranks as one of Seattle’s most walkable neighborhoods.


Comments | More in Reports | Topics: pedestrians, transportation


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