March 21, 2005

America’s Most Walkable Cities

The American Podiatric Medical Association has ranked 200 major U.S. metro areas for walkability, with Boston coming in at number 5 and Worcester at 34 (see PDF file for complete list).

The rankings are based on "healthy lifestyles, modes of transportation to and from work and involvement in fitness and sport activities," according to a statement from the APMA.

Tops on the list: Arlington, Virginia, where 23% of the city's workforce uses public transit to get to work (many of them, no doubt, using a transit system paid for by federal tax dollars so they can commute to government jobs. Ironic that the federal government then wants to slash funding for so many other forms of public transportation, like Amtrak). San Francisco, Seattle and Portland (Oregon) round out the cities ranked more walkable than Boston. (Washington, D.C. was 6th; New York ranked 7th).

45% of Bostonians either walk to work or take the T, the APMA said.

Unfortunately, the study doesn't go into what makes a walkable community. However, as I've said before, appealing streetscape as well as safe sidewalks and crossings are key. I live within walking distance of my office, but don't walk to work as nearly as often as I should. It's tecnically feasible, but not a pleasant experience. If I had to cover the same distance in a streetscape like Boston's Back Bay, I'd probably be walking to work almost every day it wasn't raining or snowing. But who wants to walk in an area where there's no buffer between sidewalk and speeding cars, where you're walking by big blank concrete walls or asphalt parking lots or dumpsters instead of storefronts or residences with windows facing the street, and so on.


  1. As a former resident of Seattle (third on the list) and a current resident of Portland (fourth on the list), I find neither of these towns particularly good walking cities.

    Portland, for example, has far to many demand type pedestrian signals. Especially fustrating when one has to wait through yet another light cycle to cross the street as your bus sails merrily by.

    Seattle, when I lived there, gave vehicles priority over pedestrians in crossing signals. Cars would go first and pedestrians were held by the signal only to be given the remants of whatever portion of the cycle that remained.

  2. This post was forwarded from a fellow Clevelander, and I'm copying my message to him here.

    Nobody will dispute that there are many infrastructural pedestrian insults in the Cleveland area. But this study is purely ranked on "healthy lifestyles, modes of transportation to and from work, and involvement in fitness and sport activities."

    As such, it is a commentary on public health, and has almost nothing to do with walkability as an urban design problem. And this region's population is known for unhealthy lifestyles and a lack of involvement in fitness and sport activities. That's driven by demographics -- an older, poorer, and less educated population than much of the country.

    There are several local efforts to address this public health problem. The city of Cleveland recently was selected for a large five year grant from HHS called STEPS, meant to tackle lifestyle risk factors in public health. There's also the Clevelanders In Motion initiative led by ParkWorks. And Slavic Village has one of only 25 projects nationwide (out of 1000 applicants) to receive a multi-year commitment from the Robert Wood Johnson foundation's Active Living By Design program, and they're tackling infrastructure improvements, plus public education and nutrition awareness.

    Maybe the best opportunities to address walkability in Cleveland from a design standpoint are the "Safe Routes to School" efforts from the Cleveland health department and an array of neighborhood-based partners. These have special urgency due to ongoing school bus budget cuts. Much of the city is within walking distance of a school, and will eventually come under scrutiny through these safety reviews.

    Ryan McKenzie
    Transportation Program Manager
    EcoCity Cleveland
    3500 Lorain Avenue #301
    Cleveland, Ohio 44113
    Tel: 216.961.5020 x 209
    Fax: 216.961.8851

  3. I absolutely agree that selecting "walkable" cities should factor in more issues than this listing does. For example, people may take public transit to work for many other reasons than walkability (although at least public transit is an option in those places).

  4. I hate to say it, but this list has a lot of problems and questions. I was born and raised in Savannah, GA (#131). Strange for a southerner, I don't own a car, so I often caught the bus and walked where I needed to go, especially in the tourist district of downtown where I usually worked. I found it much easier to walk and get around, as a native and through my experiences with MANY tourists choosing to walk, then in some of these other top cities mentioned (which i have visited or even stayed in for a period). Case in point, DC. I went to college in DC, and found very frightening the number of pedestrians hit due to horrible DC drivers. More people take public transporation, yes, but that is because there is no parking and traffic is horrible as well. Even in Atlanta, cars will not stop for you, even in the pedestrian lanes. This list is upsetting, and the criteria needs to be re-evaluated before some tourist gets the wrong idea and finds themself in a dangerous situation.

  5. This looks looks like someone took a list of cities, cut them into individual pieces, put them in a bag, shook it up and came out with the the last 190.