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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


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


Thanks, Stacey and Joseph for your sleuthing.

We should assume, therefore, that the Qwest tool only works relatively well in a few states -- prominently including the Cascadian states of Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Montana; prominently not including the Cascadian states of Alaska and California.

(All the more reason for a mash up. Josh, how's it coming?)

I'll update the post.

Posted by: Alan Durning | Apr 10, 2006 11:39:41 AM

Alan's right about that thing being tempermental, I tried the day this was posted and it wouldn't identify my location, but today I'm getting a 147 for our "downtown" Issaquah location. 21 MDs, 30 dentists, 21 restaurants. Looking at the details, though it's not more than a rough swag. Lots of clearly missing stuff, plus lots of duplicates and even a few people I happen to know are no longer practicing.

Posted by: jeffy | Apr 11, 2006 7:38:25 PM

(About that Google mashup -- I'm Josh's wife, and I can tell you he's swamped at work at the moment. He keeps coming home muttering about SSH and firewall debuggery. It may be a little while. Or heck, maybe I'll take a crack at it myself. How hard can it be, right?)

Posted by: Cam Larios | Apr 13, 2006 12:45:04 PM

(And yes, those were famous last words on purpose. Having discussed this with Josh, I'm coming to the conclusion that to really make this work would require more than a mash-up.)

You can get a sort of a start by using Google Local in its long form:

For a complete list, search for * in the "What" box, and your address in the "Where" box. Then page forward until you have found the limits of what you believe to be your own walkshed. (Assuming a walkshed that's equidistant in all directions from your starting point.) The data is nicely sorted by distance and has pretty maps.

However, the dataset does have a few errors (don't they all?) and I suspect they're calculating distance as the crow flies instead of as the human walks.

Posted by: Cam Larios | Apr 13, 2006 2:46:43 PM

Things are complicated by the fact that the best (easiest to extract data from, anyway) source of data is Google itself. While Google doesn't have a problem with you extracting data from one company and displaying it on their maps, they do have a problem with people extracting data from their service (at least in the way you'd need to for this). If I were to make a mash-up using data extracted from Google, they'd most likely shut it down the minute they noticed it.

I'll see if there's a way to do it so that your browser does the work of extracting the data and sending it to my site, which only does the display part. At least that way, there'd be an argument that I wasn't too far in violation of their terms of service.

Cam's method of searching for "*" near an address is the way I'd find business listings within a certain distance. I'd just have to keep getting the next 10 results and sticking them in a list until a distance was outside the desired radius.

Posted by: Josh Larios | Apr 13, 2006 4:27:35 PM

A modest breakthrough, Cam and Josh. Thank you!

When I run your method, google freezes on me after the first 271 businesses (at 0.7 miles) -- still far more than qwest found. I'll try again when the web's less congested.

Neat maps but quite cumbersome.

Posted by: Alan Durning | Apr 13, 2006 5:23:15 PM

i just did the google local search, and got 274 results. however, when i got to a mile, i clicked on one of the locations, and got directions; turns out if i actually want to go there it is 1.4 miles, so the google results are definitely as the crow flies.

Posted by: colorless green ideas | Apr 13, 2006 6:55:32 PM

Actually, I suspect that's intentional on Google's part. The more local searches of that type I do, the fewer results Google will show me. I think they must have countermeasures already in place to prevent people from doing this.

Which makes the problem of creating a walkshed map, really, one of finding a good data source. My GPS has a decent one, although it's rarely updated, and if I were to extract its data for online viewing I'm pretty sure I'd be sued into the ground.

Amazon's A9 search engine will give you up to 1000 search results before cutting you off, it looks like. That's fine for my location, but only gets you .15 miles away from your starting point in downtown San Francisco.

Qwest doesn't have good coverage outside of its region.

Yellowpages.com only lets you search by zip code, not by individual address.

Mapquest limits you at 150 results.

Yahoo is useless; you can only search in narrow business categories. Their Maps Beta (http://maps.yahoo.com/beta/) has a nice browsing interface, though.

Superpages lets you search by distance, but only if you know what you're searching for. No browsing.

Citysearch also limits you to 1000 listings.

And so on.

I'm beginning to think that the way to do this is to either pay to license someone's data set (unlikely) or build one ourselves, through user contributed data. I know that there's a movement in the UK (where government-collected map data is tightly controlled, as opposed to the US where it's in the public domain) to create maps using through a collaborative process, with lots of people walking around with GPS devices, then going back and uploading and marking their tracks with street names. (It's more complicated than that, but that's the gist of it). Something like that might work well here, with people entering business information for the business they know to be within their own walksheds.

It'd be a pretty ambitious project.

Posted by: Josh Larios | Apr 13, 2006 6:57:35 PM

Ambitious, and interesting. I'd be into working on that.

Posted by: Cam Larios | Apr 13, 2006 6:59:57 PM

Google froze me out at 274.

So how about a substitute: how far away is the 270th-closest business from your house? (This is sort of an inverse burley score.) If it's 0.2 mile, you live in a commercial-rich area like Capitol Hill. My house in Ravenna is .7 miles. My mom's house in suburban Delaware is 2.2 miles. SF or Manhattan scores might be even lower than Cap Hill's.

You could even use the lat-long of the 270th-closest address, to calculate it to more decimal places -- to differentiate between a score of 0.65 and one of 0.74.

Seems to me that this would be a lot easier to implement, and give you a very similar result in practice.

Posted by: Clark Williams-Derry | Apr 13, 2006 9:17:47 PM

Nice innovation, Clark.

Your method works for comparing places with each other, Clark. I like it. (And I'd simplify it to stop at 100: how far out do I have to go from my home to get to the first 100 businesses?)

Still, it's an abstraction. It's no longer a count of businesses I can walk to.

Last night, I was playing with yet another small step toward walkshed maps (but not, alas, Burley Scores).

Go to www.map24.com and register. Choose address search, then type in your home address. (You may need to install or update your java at this point.) Now, begin to play with the map. Zoom out enough to cover 1 mile radius of your walkshed.

If you live in a neighborhood where streets form a grid, your one-mile walkshed (measured as the human walks -- thanks Cam -- not how the crow flies) is not a circle on the map. It's a diamond. You can use map24's measurement tool (a little clunky but workable) to measure the four corners of your diamond. Just click the measurement tool on the toolbar, then click on your home and move your cursor along your street away from home until the tool tells you you're one mile out. Double-click there. Return home, click and move in the opposite direction to one mile. Repeat for your cross street.

(Notice as you move your cursor that map24 actually expands a circle on the map -- tantalizingly close to what we were originally searching for.)

If you want, you can then connect the four corners on your map additional measurement lines.

The area inside these lines is within one walking mile of home. And map24 will show you a variety of businesses in this home zone. Unfortunately, it won't count them, as far as I can tell.


Posted by: Alan Durning | Apr 14, 2006 7:23:44 AM

Here. I'll try to show you what I created. If this works, you'll be able to zoom around on the map. By moving your cursor around, you'll see business listings pop up.

http://link2.map24.com/?street0=6540%2018Th%20Ave%20Nw&zip0=98117&city0=Seattle&state0=&country0=us&name0=&lid=3183d951&ol=us-en" target="_blank"

Posted by: Alan Durning | Apr 14, 2006 7:32:22 AM

Amazingly, in my neighborhood, about 75% of the businesses were lawyers. I guess if I get hit by a car as I'm walking, I won't have far to go for legal aid!

Posted by: Terry | Apr 14, 2006 3:44:41 PM

Amazon's A9 maps gave me a count of businesses within my walkshed that's more than four times larger than Qwest's.

I used a * in the category box.

Interesting -- and thanks to Josh and Cam.

The scale of a wiki walkshed mapping process would be staggering.

Posted by: Alan Durning | Apr 14, 2006 6:28:34 PM

I think it might _have_ to be done wiki-style, for it to have much value. You're never going to find listings for "public toilet", "bench" or "nice view" in the yellow pages, and those are things I'd want on my walkshed map.

In addition, all of the closest "businesses" to my home in any search so far have been private residences. While there may be a bunch of general contractors, tech writers, and massage practitioners in my neighborhood, I don't think they belong on my walkshed map.

With that in mind, I registered walkshed.(com|net|org) today, and am playing around with a wiki, not thinking it would be the final product, but that it could be a useful way to share ideas about how an ideal walkshed site would work.

I know a few folks interested in GIS, transit planning, and other fields that would be useful for putting together something like this. I'll have to point them to this thread and see if they're interested.

Posted by: Josh Larios | Apr 14, 2006 8:42:42 PM

This is very cool...I would just point out that Feet First created a walking map of Ballard a few years ago -- one in a series of neighborhood walking maps they've been creating to advocate physical fitness and community building in Seattle.

Posted by: David Shelton | Apr 19, 2006 2:46:42 PM


To quote, Dan B.

"Two words: You rock."

Keep us apprised of how we can help!

Posted by: Alan Durning | Apr 19, 2006 2:52:08 PM