People love walkable neighborhoods; so much so that they pay a significant premium to live in one. Interestingly, however, there’s no correlation between living in a walkable neighborhood and actually walking more. That’s the result of a UW study that included Seattle’s Ravenna neighborhood.
One way to read these results is to say that we’re foolish to pay for walkable neighborhoods because we don’t use them. Another way to read it is that we’ve defined walkability too broadly:
Although many dozens of studies have tried to analyze why some people walk and others don’t, [Brian Saelens, from Seattle Childrens’ Resarch Institute] says the overwhelming fact is it’s hard to get Americans to walk anywhere near the recommended 30 minutes per day.
The only proven way, he says, is if they live in high-density, transit-rich neighborhoods. In those areas, walking is useful. They’re dense with apartments and shops, driving is a pain, and good transit service means people will walk to a bus-stop or train station. In Seattle, he says, parts of Capitol Hill and Queen Anne fit the bill.
Ravenna has a Walkscore of 77, which is decent, but Capitol Hill beats it comfortably with a 91. A Saturday afternoon stroll is, I would imagine, rather pleasant in Ravenna, but walking everywhere to run errands is probably intensely time-consuming. Sidewalks and tree-lined streets are nice amenities (as people who live in Sidewalk-less Seattle can no doubt attest), but in and of themselves they’re not enough to encourage more walking. True walkability – where you walk because it’s faster than any other form of transportation – is actually quite rare in Seattle (and most of America).