« A Frank Look at Chinook | Main | Hybrid Whiplash »

April 05, 2006

One Mile from Home

(Editor's note: See the two other posts in the walkability series, "Carless in Seattle" and "Dead Man Walking.")

Burley_compressed_1Last 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. (4/10 Update: This tool is really only reliable in states where Qwest offers local phone service. Elsewhere, the count is incomplete. Here's a map of their area. Tip of the hat to Joseph W., in comments, for this catch.)

Here’s how:

To get a fairly complete count of businesses (in Qwest's 14 states), 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 (in comments) 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.

Posted by Alan Durning | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference One Mile from Home:

» Walkshed Index from Tread Lightly :: Personal Sustainability
From Alans site, To get a fairly complete count of businesses (in Qwests 14 states), go to this Qwest online phone directory, select the business listings, type “all” in the category field, click “near a street address,” ty... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 23, 2006 11:12:18 PM


I live in the Ravenna neighborhood of Seattle. Close to UW (~25 blocks). My score is 175 by DexOnline measure.

Posted by: Ryan Carson | Apr 5, 2006 4:33:20 PM

To your P3S:

Geekiness alert:

Precise PedShed maps, Alan, are problematic due to the tortuosity (non-straightness) of routes.

That is: you can draw a one-mile radius, but many folks won't walk the distance to the edge of your circle.

Because that one mile is a "crow-flies" distance, not the greater on-the-ground distance, as it is usually much greater walking distance on the ground. Many surveys show average folks will walk 1/4 mile to a destination (~10 mins).

Anne Vernez-Moudon at UW is the reigning championess of this mapping, as it is largely her work (and others that worked with her) that got KingCo going on their pedestrian and transit programs.


And Phil Hurvitz explains many useful mapping aspects here:


The planner you guys co-sponsored at Town Hall, Larry Frank (one of Anne's old students), does this work too and should have some maps as well as he just finished a phase of work for KingCo.

Posted by: Dan Staley | Apr 5, 2006 5:04:15 PM

In making a tool to figure out walkshed boundaries, it might be nice to use an algorithm for pedestrians along the lines of what Badhill used to have for for bicyclists. (http://seattle.metblogs.com/archives/2005/08/horizontalizing.phtml - whatever happened to Badhill, I wonder.)

I'm between Ravenna and Lake City (officially that's "Hayes Park") and my one-mile score is only 76 by DexOnline measure. But my perceived walkshed works out to be a good bit better than that, because Ravenna's 65th Street shopping district is a pleasant, easy one-and-a-quarter-mile stroll away on level ground with many convenient stoplights. On the other hand, some of the nearby shops are on the other side of one heck of a big hill. Maybe I'm just a big wuss, but I haven't tried to get over that hill on foot for months.

Posted by: Cam Larios | Apr 5, 2006 5:44:35 PM


Thanks for the links. In Cascadia Scorecard 2006, which is in production right now for release in late Spring, we'll present a more sophisticated walkability index for King County developed by Larry Frank. And some maps that show just how essential street patterns are to walkability.

For this post, I just want a rough guage that anyone can check in a minute or less. And so far, I think the Qwest tool is surprisingly robust. My _impression_ of how the Qwest tool works, by the way, is that it is not based on crow-flies distance but actual travel distance, derived by summing the length of street segments. Does anyone know if I am mistaken? Anyone know how to find out?


Topography is a big deal, especially when I'm pushing the Burley. Ballard is gently sloping, so my walkshed isn't affected much. The ideal "mash up" would incorporate elevation gain. Perhaps it would let you tug and condense the dimensions of your walkshed based on topography, places you like to walk anyway (nice views, waterside paths, good donuts). I wonder if that's doable with existing technology.

For the time being, since you enjoy the walk to the shopping street, what would your score be if you set the focus of your circle half way to the shopping street rather than at your own address?

Posted by: Alan Durning | Apr 5, 2006 8:56:09 PM

Good idea! The revised score is 117 -- that's not bad, and includes just about all the things I actually walk to. In my approximated walkshed are listed 26 dentists, 54 restaurants, 28 massage therapists, and 1 Psychic Center. There are also at least 4 bakeries, of which Qwest missed two. It has trouble with the Morning Star and Bagel Oasis: it has their addresses, but when asked for maps of their locations, responds, "Could Not Geocode Your Request. Here's a Map of the United States". Yep, clunky and imprecise.

Posted by: Cam Larios | Apr 6, 2006 2:05:17 AM

very interesting

Posted by: Chester | Apr 6, 2006 3:16:33 AM

A Canadian equivalent is Canada 411's proximity tool. I'm not sure what we can make of cross-platform comparisons however. My score here in Montreal is 1429 within 2 km (1.25 miles). Even correcting for some double listings (English and French names) and subtracting out the churches and schools, it's over a thousand. Plus, if I check specific categories, business that I know are within the proper area aren't on the list. From checking the maps, the tool seems to provide sidewalk (i.e., road) distances not as the crow flies. Oh, and the area is utterly flat.

Posted by: Kevin Connor | Apr 6, 2006 7:22:22 AM


How did you get Canada411.ca to show you every business listing, or even to count them?

When I try "all" in the "category" area, the search engine assumes I mean "all-terrain vehicles."

Posted by: Alan Durning | Apr 6, 2006 8:05:13 AM

For Canada 411, instead of "all", just enter nothing for category/business name, then be sure to enter the address. I didn't have a specific address to use, but it seemed to pick up enough results for Vancouver, BC.

Posted by: Eric | Apr 6, 2006 8:50:32 AM

Thanks, Eric!

The Canadian tool is better than the Qwest tool, as far as I can tell. For NEW board member Gordon Price's address in the West End of Vancouver, I get a walkshed index of 6889, if the radius is set at 2 kilometers. Even at 1 kilometer (a bit more than half a mile), the score is around 1,500.

I'll add an update to the post.

Posted by: Alan Durning | Apr 6, 2006 9:02:05 AM

Very fun!

I'm at 222 from my house, which is also in Ballard. That includes some destinations I don't want to walk to--a crane shop, several ship builders, and even Alan's house! :-) But also 16 churches, 53 restaurants, more than a dozen establishments where I can slake my thirst, and 3 full-scale grocery stores. (Incidentally, I found this site somewhat easier to use: http://www.superpages.com/ though I can't find a way to find all businesses in a single search. Click "search by distance.")

I recently moved from a small apartment on Capitol Hill. But while the apartment was smaller, my opportunities were larger. My former walkshed boasted 475 businesses. And that count includes a much greater share of businesses a person might actually walk to (as opposed to, say, the nearby Ballard crane shop). Plus the well-designed street network made the pedestrian king.

Posted by: Eric de Place | Apr 6, 2006 9:18:35 AM

I wasn't really expecting much, since I live in an exurban, but rapidly growing, community. However, my Burley score turned out to be 19. Yes, low, but better than 0. For those of you who know me, you know that I'm working to raise that number out here through my city's comprehensive plan which empahsizes mixed use, walkable neighborhoods.

So, I have 2 doctors, 9 dentists, and 8 restaurants in range. So, apparently we're doing alot of eating, but not quite enough brushing.

The really nice thing is that the closest is my wife's pediatric office.

However, I do know that this is incomplete. The number is actually higher because there are a number of businesses here which adjacent to the nearer locations, yet are not listed. It appears that DexOnline has some significant sales opportunities out here.

Thanks for the experiment!

Posted by: Brian Sayrs | Apr 6, 2006 9:46:41 AM

Interesting little experiment, though I would echo an earlier comment about "walking distance" meaning something closer to 1/4 mile than 1 mile, as well as the difference in coverable area in a standard urban grid as opposed to a direct distance concept.

So, you're actually looking at an area (3.14 mi2) that is roughly 25 times the size of a more realistic walking distance area (1/8 mi2).

I'd be interested to see some people map these "wiwaldi units" (as I like to call them) in detail to see to what degree their space is amenable to car-free living under normal daily conditions.

Posted by: Joseph Willemssen | Apr 6, 2006 2:07:50 PM


I've heard the 1/4 mile figure used by planners a lot. I wonder, though, whether that figure is based on "how far will car owners walk, rather than getting in their car." Do you know?

This blog post is based on personal experience, not data on others' behavior. For my family of five, a 1 mile walk with the Burley doesn't seem excessive to anyone. My 12-year-old daughter routinely walks a mile to her favorite video store.

Canada411.ca lets you set your radius at 1 km or 2 km, so you can test different sizes of walksheds for Canadian cities.

And Superpages.com lets you check for businesses within 1/2 mile of your address (but won't let you count all such businesses).

Still pining for a mash up . . .

Posted by: Alan Durning | Apr 6, 2006 2:30:05 PM

I can probably put together a mashup; I'll poke at it after work. I don't think it'll be very useful for making a printed map, though. Google Maps mashups are great for interactive stuff, but pretty awful for printing.

There's probably a decent palmtop map application that would do a decent job, though. If you have a GPS, you might be able to do something interesting with that, too.

Posted by: Josh | Apr 6, 2006 4:20:13 PM

Looking forward to it, Josh, even if it's not printable!

Posted by: Alan Durning | Apr 6, 2006 4:56:08 PM

Alan, two words: you rock!

Regarding the oft-quoted quarter-mile limit for walking: methinks planner types (that would include me) could do us all a favor and stop parroting that number. It may well be that a quarter-mile is how far the average person is willing to walk in the currently existing average cultural and physical environment. But obviously, under different conditions, that distance can be much greater. When you consider that humans evolved as walking animals, the idea of such a short walking distance limit is just plain absurd.

Now the quarter-mile limit may have some usefulness in helping to make the case for compact development. But it also has the devious potential to set us up for a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy, as in, "why bother spending money on improving conditions for walking? People will never walk that far anyway."

And if I may jump topics here, I see a parallel in the debate over the viaduct replacement (see the March 31 "Surface with a Smile" post). It's probably safe to assume that the 2030 WASHDOT trip projections are based on current driving behavior. But who can possibly believe that over the next 25 years there won't be big changes that affect that behavior, e.g. Hubbert's peak, increased awareness of global warming, etc.

WASHDOT's summary findings report on the no replacement option states that 70% of viaduct trips are between Seattle neighborhoods or neighboring cities. Meanwhile, one of Washington State's primary planning goals is to create dense urban centers that reduce car trips by enabling people to stay local: but do the 2030 trip projections reflect these future trends? Those of us who favor the no replacement option will need to dissect these projections. We can't let status quo projections lock us into the status quo.

Posted by: dan bertolet | Apr 7, 2006 12:04:54 AM

"I've heard the 1/4 mile figure used by planners a lot. I wonder, though, whether that figure is based on 'how far will car owners walk, rather than getting in their car.' Do you know?"

I'm not sure how they arrive at the number, though I use it based on personal experimentation. Just seeing how people behave, I figure anything beyond a 5 minute walk is seen as being a travail (in terms of necessary activities), so I've gone out and seen how far I walk at a relaxed pace in 5 minutes. Seems I go about 3 mph, and so that equates to 3 city blocks or 1/4 mile. Spacing of bus stops along local bus lines also seems to reflect this rough idea of tolerable walking distance.

I realize you're simply doing this based on your own personal tolerances, but it isn't really applicable to a generalized model. For example, even if you assume people that most people could cover more than 1/4 mile for regular activities, it's usually because we might forget that some people live in places with iced-over sidewalks and -30 degree windchill days a couple months out of the year. Or, conversely, 120 degree air temperatures and concrete sidewalks. Either way, walking for more than 5 minutes under those conditions is incredibly uncomfortable and possibly very dangerous -- especially if one is less than perfectly healthy. Neither my grandmother (who is deceased) nor my aunt owned cars, and both of them have broken their hips slipping and falling on icy sidewalks.

So for me there's a lot of reasons to keep the unit of analysis conservatively small, since competing modes of movement wouldn't get one much further in the same amount of time (5 minutes) - especially when you factor in the "getting going" or "extra equipment" aspects of cars, bikes, motorcycles, etc. And if one can find workable solutions within that size framework, then larger sizes and distances will also naturally be workable as well.

I also don't think it should be approached in a completely rigid fashion (eg, ignoring something a hundred feet beyond the 5 minute distance). It's more just a rough framework. But as I was saying, people don't realize how much more area they're considering simply by having the distance standard be 1 mile instead of 1/4 mile, and the boundary assumption being circular instead of diamond-shaped.

Natrually, too, an evolution of your conceptual framework (which is a good one) would need to acknowledge functional boundaries like major thoroughfares, train tracks, etc, which keep people mentally locked in to a certain space as pedestrians. My girlfriend and I were just scoping out a local neighborhood here near the new light rail line. There was a food co-op, major Asian grocer, hardware store, bars, restaurants, banks, lots of bus lines, coffee shops, art centers, etc (and even a wonderful car-free street)


but when we were looking at possible places to live, the Interstate to the north and the light rail line and major highway to the west formed functional boundaries, even though the distance from the center of reference (the grocery store) wasn't in and of itself problematic for either one of us. It was more the "gauntlet" aspect of crossing unpleasant boundaries which kept our frame of reference within that of the major roads and rail line. Then there's even the aspect of noise near the thoroughfares which also creates a buffer space of intolerability.

I spent 6 or 7 years as an adult without a car in Tokyo, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, and Manhattan, and even now, despite having vehicles, still play around with walking to things. And I also am the kind of person who will walk 20 miles across my urban space for fun.


Posted by: Joseph Willemssen | Apr 7, 2006 7:29:26 AM


Many good points. Thanks. The thought that humans--who likely began to stand upright in part because it allowed us to extend our range for foraging--can never be expected to walk more than a quarter mile is, as you say, somewhat absurd.

Still, different people have different ranges in different circumstances. I know one couple who returned from trekking in Nepal and decided to walk more. They'd routinely walk 3 or 4 urban miles to go visit friends or enjoy a meal.

When it's pouring rain or if you're confined to a wheelchair, a quarter mile is too far.


Your observations about the various types of boundaries we encounter -- noise, gauntlet, etc. -- are spot on.

So, as we continue to defined the ideal mash up, we can add that it would allow the user to set its boundaries almost block by block. Every intersection might have a marker and the user could drag those markers whichever direction her experience dictated. Some would end up with round walksheds of 1/8th mile in radius. Others, like my peripatetic trekking couple, might have bigger terrain.

Posted by: Alan Durning | Apr 7, 2006 8:13:15 AM

I, of course, agree with Mr Bertolet and extend his comment to address Joseph's question:

1/4 mile is about 10 minutes of walking and current research on preferences in Seattle area find this is the average time folk will spend in their busy days to walk to a destination (_to a destination_ is key). 10 minutes for the elderly is different than for the young or empty-nesters [typical Seattleites, as the average family is not found in Seattle].

I also should comment about the lack of bike lane comment in another thread that when I lived in Seattle I rode my bike everywhere (I didn't have a vehicle), including the grocery store. Seattle streets are very safe (compared to Sacramento) and I had no problems getting around, even when there were no bike lanes. But I act like I belong on the road and cars treat me accordingly (although I never rode to Mr Bertolet's house because of that dang hill...).

Posted by: Dan Staley | Apr 7, 2006 8:58:16 AM

I just mapped out the two most distant places I am normally willing to walk, and found that they are 0.4 and 0.6 miles away. Looking at the map I see my walking space is determined by geography and city planning: it pretty much equals the commercial district on the north end of Broadway plus the Pike/Pine strip. Any further, and I'd have to walk through a residential district, up or down a steep hill, or across a major freeway. Within that area, though, I'd say that a quarter mile is pretty much spot on for my normal range.

I do sometimes walk a mile or so downtown, but only because it's downhill all the way, and because the bus is so slow and so often late that it just doesn't make sense to wait. (There's a much wider selection of uphill buses to choose from, coming home.) The motivation there has a lot more to do with frustration than choice, though: I wouldn't walk downtown if Seattle had a public transit system that actually worked.

Posted by: Mars Saxman | Apr 7, 2006 11:05:04 AM


11th + pike.

Posted by: charles | Apr 7, 2006 7:14:12 PM

Here's a question for you, Alan:

On a suggestion from my brother, I did the walkability search for a couple of points in NYC--Empire State Building, NY Stock Exchange, Rockefeller Center. Both my brother and I assumed NYC, as densely packed as it is, would blow downtown Seattle out of the water in terms of businesses within a one-mile radius. It didn't.

Empire State Building: 3,300
Stock Exchange: 1,037
Rockefeller Center: 3,700 and some

Why is that? Because the density includes so much residential space? More public institutions? Central Park? The water around Manhattan?

It's got me curious.

Posted by: Stacey Panek | Apr 10, 2006 10:40:32 AM

"Why is that? Because the density includes so much residential space? More public institutions? Central Park? The water around Manhattan?"

It could be something as simple as the fact that New York is outside of Qwest's service region, so they may not have complete listings.

Just doing a quick search on Yahoo's yellow pages with the NYSE as the location, the first 200 restaurant listings are all within 2/10 of a mile. So if that's any guide, that 1,037 number for all businesses is way off.

Posted by: Joseph Willemssen | Apr 10, 2006 11:06:57 AM

My guess turned out to be right.

I took a look at Dex's page on total listing per state:

Then I took those figures and divided them by 2005 population estimates.

The 14 states with the highest number of listings per person were the 14 states of Qwest's local service area - pretty much the least dense area of the United States.

The 14 state average is 0.108 listings/person, whereas the average for the other 36 states is 0.036. Washington in particular is 0.109 and New York is 0.039.

Posted by: Joseph Willemssen | Apr 10, 2006 11:29:10 AM