In March this year, a Globe and Mail
article about walkability told the woeful tale of a property owner on
the Swansea side of Bloor West Village bemoaning his score of 39 (out
of 100, where the higher the score, the more walkable the neighbourhood
in which the score is based. Like him, I was surprised as his property
is two (admittedly longer) blocks south of BWV proper.
curious, I checked out ours: 78. Phew. We are further from BWV,
but close to Annette Village, a more modest but functioning business
area. It is typical post-WWII residential subdivision with a variety of
mid-century building styles.
being even more curious, as new employee at the City of Mississauga, I
wanted to see what the score was for my workplace, a mid-sized office
tower surrounded by surface parking, accessed via a seven-lane road
with wide boulevards and populated by similar office buildings,
high-rise apartments with no retail storefront as such,
concrete/asphalt surfaces largely as far as the eye can see (201 is the
building on the right). How low could it be, I chortled: 15? 9?
Guess again: 93. 93?
an examination of what these walk scores do and do not consider. They
do consider proximity to restaurants, groceries, retail, errands,
parks, schools and culture/entertainment. There is also a transit
score, that that isn't part of the walk score.
Centre" area (not a downtown, though it encompasses City Hall) did not
evolve to a high-density area from an early settlement or small-town
downtown. In the 1970's, this was farmland: when it was chosen as the
local seat of government and centre of high-density development
consummated using contemporary planning models. It likely has a
high walk-index because of it's proximity to the Living Arts Centre,
Central Library, City Hall, some schools, and restaurants on the main
floors of office towers, like mine. A major factor is probably the
location of Square One, a large indoor mall seen below.
aside the planning behind this configuration, to me there are other
measures of 'walkability' that the walk index misses. Large (seven
lane) arterial roads are not friendly to pedestrians wanting to get to
the other side, particularly when formal pedestrian crossings, of 30
metre rights-of-way are located only at only traffic lights,
separated by 250-500 metre intervals. While the residential towers do
have some commercial amenities, they are typically professional
services, like dentists or pharmacies, or the occasional micro-grocery
store. The streetscape is typified by very wide setbacks, with the
separation of buildings further emphasized by the expanses of surface
(and some modest two- or three-level parking garages, above and below
Walkability is also a factor of 'accommodation': as
in, is there a walking amenity? While there are sidewalks along
rights-of-way, the rights-of-way are roadways, designed for cars and
trucks, not pedestrian travel. The shortest distance between, say, a
bus stop or office building and Square One is not the road, but
typically through a parking lot, where walkways are not provided: they
are designed for cars parked, parking, or decamping, and are more hazardous to pedestrians than roadways. As private property, where the Highway Traffic Act does not apply (which drivers realize, and so are more inclined to use mobile devices as they drive through them), it is fraught. Another factor is the environment itself: large, dark asphalt surfaces being heat sinks, making those summer days hotter:
fine for people in the AC comfort of their cars, less so for the
residents and office workers humping it through the parking areas to
get to the mall, bank, pool, or library. As for winter, ploughing
windrows oriented for parking of cars are not sympathetic to
The above observations are relatively,
well, pedestrian, related to functionality of space and motion,
where the focus of design on cars has placed a higher cost on
pedestrians. At another level there is some form of
functionality where walking along a high-speed (if not legal, then
easily attainable and fairly common) arterial roadway, populated by
deeply setback towers separated by large areas of surface parking, does
not serve any function other than getting from A to B.
Distraction by low to zero setback residential or commercial buildings
(or even mixed use), which can allow for nipping in and out of units at
minimal expense of time or effort, and where crossing a 15 m
Right-of-Way for a distraction on the other side is not a serious
time/effort or risk to one's safety, provides for a more interactive
and even entertaining or enjoyable trip from A to B. Yet further, the
proximity and scale (let alone style) of building fabric also
contribute to the walking aesthetic.
So, the walk-score is in
sore need of improvement. It wouldn't be hard to incorporate additional
data (hello Google) like width of right-of-way, intersection/cross-walk
intervals, zoning setbacks for buildings and existing setbacks, along
with surface parking metrics and measures of walking amenities to
provide a more functional measure of walkability for people, and not
simply proximity to destinations.
Remember, walkability is absolutely
not about the destination, but about the experience of getting there.
Otherwise, you might as well just drive.
archaeology - biking
- planning - c.v.
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last modified 2018-07-08