September 12, 2017

Vancouver Most Walkable? Walk Score Says So

It is really no surprise that  Vancouver has been named the most walkable city in Canada by Walk Score which looks at population, block length and density to ascertain their “best of” ratings. By looking at the proximity of walking routes to amenities, Walk Score ranks places dependent on amenities within a five-minute walk.

The fact that Vancouver is walkable and has championed the ability to access  shops and services within minutes of walking is really the result of a group of concerned citizens who started to meet in the early 1990’s. This group included landscape architects, planners, students and historians that later became the Urban Landscape Task Force, charged with creating walkable connections through the existing street grid, parks and public places.

One of the great legacies that came out of this Task Force is the creation of the City of Vancouver Greenway system, that links streets where walking and biking has precedence over cars. These greenways stretch from boundary to boundary across the city, and are streets where there is always a sidewalk, curb cuts at crossings, pedestrian/cyclist activated lights, plantings, and route signage.

It was a remarkable piece of work that mandated that every resident of Vancouver should be within a twenty-minute walk or a ten-minute bicycle ride from a greenway.
In the United States New York City was named the most walkable, with Sydney Australia being the most walkable in that country. Walk Score defines walkability as  “access to public transit, better commutes, and proximity to the people and places you love are the key to a happier, healthier and more sustainable lifestyle.”

But before everyone gets excited about Vancouver’s ranking-it is not a “walker’s paradise” which  Walk Score defines as cities with scores over 90. Nope, Vancouver’s score is 78, with Toronto at 71 and Montreal at 70. There is still a lot of room for improving Vancouver’s walkability with better attention to universal accessibility, sidewalk texture, width and design, benches for folks of all ages to sit on during a walk, and more comfort, safety and priority for pedestrians on the street.

The Walk Score also does not take into account Vancouver’s discouraging record of pedestrian deaths, with the majority of those fatalities being seniors legally walking across marked intersections. That’s where more work also needs to be done by the City on slowing traffic and ensuring safer pedestrian experiences.
And here’s Walk Score’s List of Most Walkable Cities by Country;

New York
San Francisco



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  1. The city scores aren’t really comparable. The clue is the greenway map, which simply cuts off at Boundary Road.
    Vancouver’s score is only for the City of Vancouver, while Toronto’s is for the amalgamated city, from Etobicoke to Scarborough (merge-demerged Montreal is its own weird and wonderful thing). Include Burnaby (score 64) and Vancouver’s score would drop. Meanwhile, the City of North Vancouver (73) beats Montreal (70), New Westminster (70) ties it – and even Burnaby would beat Mississauga’s 59.
    The media habit of treating CoV as though it is a meaningful geographic unit infuriates me (of course it is a meaningful political unit). Though I do not want to see amalgamation, when it comes to talking about housing, work, and transportation, it makes no sense to sever CoV from the surrounding municipalities – especially as stratospheric housing prices are increasingly making it a preserve of the rich.

  2. The greenways are nice and all. But they offer little if any access to amenities other than parks and transit. We need to start thinking of our commercial streets as places people want to be instead of where they have to go.
    Our commercial streets are mostly terrible, noisy smelly inhospitable places. Just the way the merchants claim to want them. Because they don’t know any better. Forget Vancouver being a walker’s paradise until this serious issue is rectified.
    WRT Vancouver being treated as a geographic unit. Why not? Paris is almost exactly the same physical size. It just has the population of Metro Vancouver to give it enough density to be walkable throughout. There are very few places south of 16th and east of the Drive that can ever be truly walkable without radical increases in density and radical land use changes.

    1. “WRT Vancouver being treated as a geographic unit. Why not?”
      Because doing so amounts to ignoring where most people can afford to live. A very large proportion of the stories about urban issues ignore the existence of anything outside the City’s boundaries, effectively writing the majority of the population out of the picture. (Why aren’t New West and North Van account for in any way by that list?)
      “There are very few places south of 16th and east of the Drive that can ever be truly walkable without radical increases in density and radical land use changes.”
      This remark perfectly distils the problem. First, there are plenty of such places, from New West downtown to Coquitlam Centre (where over a decade ago I used to walk and take transit). Second, to the extent that this is true, it is precisely why this kind of focus is so unhealthy. We need to talk about and fix those other places, not pat ourselves on the back about building winner-takes-all solutions for a fortunate fraction of the population. This over-concentration of vibrant neighbourhoods is a huge part of our housing crisis.
      It is also political dynamite, something geographers like Manuel Castells and (iirc) Saskia Sassen have been writing about for ages. City cores are plugged-in to a culturally and economically homogenized global network. People living in their gleaming towers have more in common with their compatriots half way around the world than they do with their neighbours living right next door. In the 90s, Castells explained how this contrast between “spaces” (of wealthy networks) and “places” (disconnected from the global economy) fosters extremism. Even here, there was an overwhelming sense of resentment towards Vancouver during the transit referendum. Ford, trump, xenophobia: our cities are fuelling these things.
      While I could walk to Vancouver in 20 minutes, I feel that it is not meant for me. Its places are not my places, its successes are not my successes, and I have the sense that it may be sucking the atmosphere out of the places where I actually spend my life. This is not what is in my head: but it is in my heart.

      1. I’m not disagreeing. But isn’t it time the “suburban” communities began to stand on their own two feet? Vancouver isn’t sucking the life out of them. They were designed specifically to be “not like the city”. This was a huge mistake.
        Jobs and amenities should match population in each and all of our suburbs. For a long time suburban planners and governmetns allowed this to be achieved only through the most unwalkable developments.
        There may well be resentment toward cities from outside of them. It is misplaced. The world is flocking to cities and the most successful ones should be used as models, not something to be despised. Those populist “leaders” who lead that charge are not doing anybody any favours.
        Thankfully some smaller municipalities get it and have begun the long process of making their centres walkable. Unfortunately there are massive swaths where this may never be achieved. That includes large swaths of Vancouver.

      2. I agree with pretty much everything you say. My problem is the way that Vancouver is so often thought of as only being the City of Vancouver. This is an unhealthy focus that exacerbates existing inequalities, and I think leads regional decision makers (among whom I bet people who live and/or work in Vancouver are over-represented) to ignore other areas.
        To return to the original point though, while Walk Score is great, I think the city-level score is almost meaningless. Not only are the cities incomparable (maybe Vancouver can be compared with Paris, but not with Toronto): operating on the level of a whole city is automobile-scale thinking. With the disastrous reign of motordom, it turns out that speed and distance matter less than the experience of street at a human scale.

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