Web site ranks towns for walkability

How walkable is your neighborhood? Walkscore.com ranks communities nationwide (and soon, globally) based on how many businesses, parks, theaters, schools and other common destinations are within walking distance of any given starting point.

The site's creators, Matt Lerner, Mike Mathieu and Jesse Kocher, all of Seattle, say they were inspired by the nonprofit Siteline Institute to think of walking not just as a healthful physical activity for an individual but also as mental and social exercise that boosts interactions within a community.

When you enter an address at walkscore.com, a Google map appears, studded with blue icons representing nearby restaurants, stores, schools and parks. A list at the left identifies the mapped destinations and their distance from your starting point. More specific information, such as addresses and phone numbers, is available by clicking on a destination's name.

"Walk scores," displayed above the map, range from zero to 100; scores below 25 mean there is no destination within walking range (Lerner considers anything farther than a mile not very walkable) and scores 90 and higher signify a "walker's paradise."

Lerner admits the scoring system is not yet perfect: "There's a lot of things that make a neighborhood walkable that we're not measuring right now ... things like how wide the streets are, things like safety."

Lerner also acknowledges that the scoring information is also only as accurate as Google Maps, so there may be some disconnect between what's on the site and what's actually in a neighborhood.

Also, distances are calculated as the crow flies, meaning the site gives the shortest distance between two points, regardless of whether there's, for example, a lake in between.

For fun, use a pull-down menu to see how your neighborhood stacks up against such celebrity locations as the Brady Bunch House in Hollywood (walk score, 75) and President Bush's Crawford ranch (zero).

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