Walkability: The Evolution of Its Definition

A topic very close to my personal and professional interests is the idea of walkability. This phrase is used often, perhaps too often? But what does walkability really mean? Is it something that we can really define? Probably not. Present party included, geographers, architects, planners, urbanists and landscape architects will still continue to try.

Pedestrian Propulsion

Recently, I provided a blog post on the EVstudio Blog (Inverse Relationship of Level of Service and Pedestrian Propulsion) that referenced Steve Mouzon’s phrase “Pedestrian Propulsion“. I love that phrase, doesn’t it just roll off your tongue?!

The way that Steve defines this on the Original Green is about the closest way that walkability can be defined. Steve’s definition is as follows:

A characteristic of a street that entices you to walk further than you otherwise would on lesser streets… literally propelling you along the way.”

Walk Score

Steve’s definition is a very eloquent definition, however it is qualitative and can be misinterpreted.  It is best used as a complement to other quantitative methods of measuring walkability. WalkScore.com is one of the best at using quantitative measures to define the walkability of a place. Although, the scores of places can be argued, especially using personal experience of comparative places. The arguments need Steve’s Pedestrian Propulsion consideration to better establish the true walkability of the place. For example, WalkScore does not always account for major barriers like high-capacity streets, or as the brilliant folks at Strong Towns call them — STROADS.

Perhaps the idea of allowing users to rank places with social media will assist Walk Score? A Beta site is currently being tested in Denver utilizing MapQuest with this in mind. It is called MQVibe, check it out here.

5-Minute Walk

The five-minute walk is often represented with a simple 1/4 mile radius circle centered on the place of interest. This is another great reference point for planners in determining block lengths and master planning of adjacent locations in a plan. However, we have all experienced some places that we could walk for miles, most of which are in places with that right level of density. I referred to this playfully for a Halloween post as Goldilocks Density  in the Blog Post A Neighborhood Designed for Halloween. Richard Florida defined it recently as Jane Jacobs’ Density. I think I like Richard’s term better. This gets us back to Pedestrian Propulsion of course — some places propel us; others repel us.


Thank you to Patrick Kennedy at Walkable DFW for pointing out this site: Mapnificent.net. This website is extremely fun and addictive. There are several options included in the website to assist in measuring the existing mobility options in some of the major cities in the World. I am illustrating a couple of diagrams with the location of the new EV Studio Planning office as the point of beginning. (201 East Las Animas, Suite 113).

A five-minute trip utilizing transit and walking from the new EV Studio Planning office. Map provided from Mapnificent.net.
A five-minute trip utilizing transit, walking, and bicycle from the new EV Studio Planning office. Map provided from Mapnificent.net.

The first map above is showing a 5-minute ride/walk utilizing only bus transit and by foot at the default walking speeds. The lower map shows the same duration of time with the use of bicycle. Mapnificent did a great job of illustrating the interdependence between transit, walking and cycling. Great site, hopefully you also find it useful!

4 thoughts on “Walkability: The Evolution of Its Definition

  1. Fascinating, John! This discussion needs to continue… Thanks! BTW, I’ve evolved Pedestrian Propulsion into something more robust I’m now calling “Walk Appeal.” Lots of quantitative aspects. Matter of fact, Walk Appeal may evolve into the best measure of potential economic development in a walkable place. I’ll blog on it soon and send you a heads-up.

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