Who You Callin' Walkable?

Seattle was recently named as one of the most walkable cities in the country, but one local disagrees.

"The Brookings Institution has just decided that Seattle is the sixth-most-walkable large metropolitan area in the U.S. Brookings was documenting a new urbanism, the creation and nascent popularity of neighborhoods in which one doesn't need a car to buy groceries or get to work."

"Brookings looked not only at downtown cores but also at outlying urban areas (in Seattle, they included Belltown and Pioneer Square) and surrounding communities (Redmond and Kirkland). Its criteria included density, compactness, and the prevalence of mixed residential and other uses. All of its leading cities except Seattle had rail transit systems, although not all had old heavy rail: Portland ranked fifth on the Brookings list, and Washington, D.C., ranked first. (The rankings were based on a ratio of walkable areas to population, so that although New York had the most walkable areas, its high population kept it down in 10th place. Largely on the strength of surrounding communities that actually had sidewalks, L.A. ranked 12th.)"

"I'm skeptical. If Seattle is a top-10 city, walking in this country has fallen on hard times. There's a difference between a city in which one can get someplace by walking and a city in which one can get someplace fairly efficiently."

Full Story: Seattle's pedestrian attitude toward pedestrians



Seattle walkable...?

Seattle has more things going for it than most US cities, but being walkable isn’t one of them. Seattleites are fond of cultivating their city’s outdoor image, and some locals do occasionally exercise their legs on nearby ski slopes, but the vast majority of Seattleites, otherwise, rarely venture far from their SUVs on their own two legs. Moreover, the pro-car-anti-transit mindset is stronger in Seattle than in any other large West Coast city. For anyone who knows Seattle, the notion that it is a walkable city is almost laughable; I lived there for six years and it was maddening how one needed a car to go just about anywhere. I also lived in New York for almost twenty years and the notion that Seattle is more walkable than NYC is even more laughable.

The Brookings survey is really nothing more than an example of how someone sitting in an office 3000 miles away can use statistics to measure various quality-of-life indicators and come up with quantitative results at odds with the qualitative reality on the ground.

Brookings did NOT rate the walkability of metro areas

The Brookings report cited in this article was not a rating of the walkability of metro areas, as many commentators have portrayed it (see e.g. http://www.cp-dr.com/node/1875). This is clarified in the first line of the report:

"The post-World War II era has witnessed the nearly exclusive building of low density suburbia, here termed “drivable sub-urban” development, as the American metropolitan built environment.. However, over the past 15 years, there has been a gradual shift in how Americans have created their built environment (defined as the real estate, which is generally privately owned, and the infrastructure that supports real estate, majority publicly owned), as demonstrated by the success of the many downtown revitalizations, new urbanism, and transit-oriented development."

This report is meant to rate metro areas according to their success in creating walkable new urban developments in the past 15 years, not their overall walkability. This would've been much clearer had Leinberger removed old downtowns and downtown-adjacent areas ("legacy" walkable places) from the methodology and focused exclusively on new development, which is clearly what he was interested in.

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