2007 update: Inspired in part by this post, a Sightline friend/tech whiz created Walk Score, an online tool to explore and score your neighborhood’s walkability. Check your score and comment on it !

Pedestrian stationwagonLast week, I displayed the wreckage of our 1986 stationwagon; this week, its replacement: our 1996 Burley stroller/bike trailer. (It’s Cascadia-made in Eugene, Oregon.)

The kids have long-since outgrown the thing. But since we decided to experiment in car-less living, we’ve resurrected it to haul groceries, library books, and (recently) a broken vacuum cleaner.

The Burley’s range is only as far as you want to push it. And for my family, that limit seems to be about one mile. Less than a mile is a comfortable walk; more is a burden. (To extend the range, we can fit the Burley to a bicycle—on which, more another day.)

A one-mile perimeter, therefore, defines this car-less family’s pedestrian travel zone—call it our “walkshed.” Fortunately, because we chose to live in a compact community, our walkshed turns out to be well stocked.

We can stroll to scores of shops and services—248 to be precise. I know because I counted. You can, too, in less than 60 seconds. I’ll tell you how in a moment.


  • Sunset BowlAmong the establishments in our domain are a bowling alley, a produce stand, a movie theater, and a hardware store, plus public institutions such as our post office, swimming pool, farmers’ market, and skate park (new and very cool!).

    We’ve got pairs of independent booksellers, thrift stores (we know them well), and bakeries (ditto). Three pharmacies, three yoga studios, and three video stores offer us medication, meditation, and mesmerization, respectively. Five grocers and six dry cleaners compete for our appetites and our wrinkles. Nine barbers eye our locks. Dozens of specialty shops hawk their curiosities in the range of our Burley: one sells only flags, another only gifts from Norway, a third only old magazines.

    True coffee houses number six, only one of them a Starbucks (which, because it’s so low, may be the most surprising number in this tally). Restaurants? We’re provisioned with 54! (And there are 151 within two miles: we’ll walk farther for great eating.)

    Two neighborhood ice creameries are counteracted by an astonishing 42 dentists (none of them covered by our insurance, sadly). Two local smoke shops are outnumbered by an even more astounding 74 doctors (again, not covered by our insurance). And then there’s our one neighborhood orthodontist: he has straightened or is straightening all three of our kids’ teeth, for which we’ve paid him enough to buy three used Volvos or most of a new Prius.

    I should perhaps note that, despite these large counts, we do not live downtown. Far from it—-in fact, five miles from it. Our neighborhood of Ballard is a typical streetcar community developed largely in the 1920s and replicated in every North American city of similar age.

    I should also probably note that our neighborhood is definitely not Mayberry. It’s got 44 auto shops, 10 taverns, and a liquor store. Oh, plus two sex-toy shops and two strip clubs. (Or so the signs say—I’ve never been inside. I swear.)

    All of these counts I did in my head or using the yellow pages, and you can do the same for your home if you live in the United States. Here’s how:

    To get the a fairly complete count of businesses, go to this Qwest online phone directory, select the business listings, type “all” in the category field, click “near a street address,” type in your address, and choose “1 mile.” (Sorry, Canadians, I have yet to find a .ca that performs this trick.) If you’re lucky and the database gods are smiling on you (the site is temperamental), Qwest will promptly reveal how many businesses there are within a one-mile walk of your front door. Call this your Walkshed Index, your Burley Score.

    Ours, as I said, is 248. There are two hundred and forty eight places where my family can do business within a mile of home, not counting public facilities. That number is not remarkably high: the walkshed index at my downtown office address is 6,623. Nor is it remarkably low: one suburban family I know has a score of 0. But it means that living car-free is more viable for us than it would be for many families.

    What’s the Burley Score where you live?

    P.S. More than one quarter of car trips in the United States are shorter than one mile, as we noted in Seven Wonders. One quarter!

    P.P.S. Realtors provide detailed information to prospective home buyers on schools and resale values. They could as easily report the Walkshed Index—-high scores translate into thousands of dollars of potential savings in fuel and car payments.

    P.P.P.S. According to one map-making friend, creating walkshed maps and yellow pages would be a relatively simple Google Maps “Mash Up.” Anyone know of such a tool? Anyone volunteer to do this project? I’d love to have a detailed map stowed in the “glove box” of our Burley of all 248 businesses in my home zone. (I can get close with the Qwest online directory, plus the cool mapping tools at Map24, Google Local, and Windows Live Local. But these tools are designed for car drivers, not walkers.) Ideally, I would want a walking map or PDA application that shows me the whereabouts of public restrooms, water fountains, bike racks, curb cuts, bus stops, and benches. Besides, the Qwest tool is clunky and imprecise. (My total score of 248 is inexplicably less than the sum of all the categories of establishments listed above!)

    Update: A reader points out that Canada411.ca will calculate a metric version of the Burley Score. Leave “category” blank, choose 1 or 2 kilometers, enter your address, and you’re set. I calculated a 2-kilometer Walkshed Index of almost 7,000 for  an address in Vancouver’s West End. Also, in comments on
    our old server
    , are notes on alternative mapping options such as Yahoo, Mapquest, A9, Super Pages, and Citysearch. Each has its pluses, but none provides
    the walkshed mapping tool of my dreams.

    2007 update: Inspired in part by this post, a Sightline friend/tech whiz created Walk Score, an online tool to explore and score your neighborhood’s walkability. Check your score and comment on it !