Originally published June 12, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified June 18, 2008 at 8:46 AM


New Web site aims to get Seattleites up and walking

If you want to find out how walkable your neighborhood is, you can always hit the sidewalk and see for yourself. Or now you can check it...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Walking in Seattle

A Seattle startup called Front Seat devised an algorithm that computes a "walk score" for any address in the United States or Canada. Today, the company is releasing its first-ever walkability ranking of Seattle neighborhoods. A score of 90 or above is deemed a "walker's paradise."

Pioneer Square: Score: 99

Downtown: Score: 97

First Hill: Score: 96

Belltown: Score: 95

Roosevelt: Score: 95

Chinatown ID: Score: 94

South Lake Union: Score: 94

University District: Score: 94

Lower Queen Anne: Score: 93

Wallingford: Score: 90

Central District: Score: 89

Capitol Hill: Score: 87

Columbia City: Score: 81

Queen Anne: Score: 81

Georgetown: Score: 76

Madison Valley: Score: 73


If you want to find out how walkable your neighborhood is, you can always hit the sidewalk and see for yourself.

Or now you can check it out online.

A new Web site,, today is releasing its first ranking of 77 Seattle neighborhoods, according to how close residents are to stores, restaurants, schools and other destinations.

Not surprisingly, more densely developed neighborhoods rank higher than less dense ones, with seven of the top 10 most walkable Seattle neighborhoods in or near downtown.

"Freedom is not having to get into the car," said Mike Mathieu, founder of Front Seat Management, a Seattle company that developed the software program, Walk Score.

Mathieu, who lives in Laurelhurst and walks to work, launched the site last year and wanted the walk score to become as familiar a factor for homebuyers as numbers of bedrooms and square footage.

The former Microsoft executive said his aim was to make existing data about neighborhoods accessible to those who want a healthier environment.

Users can search any address in the United States or Canada and find amenities in their neighborhood. So far, the site's search engine has generated walk scores for more than 2 million addresses, Mathieu said.

Urban planners, pedestrian activists and public-health researchers praise the site for focusing attention on the issue of walkable neighborhoods, but note that the score by itself shouldn't be the only basis for deciding where to live.

The score doesn't take into account road widths, traffic or the availability of sidewalks and traffic circles, all of which affect walkability, said Amy Shumann, a health educator in the prevention division of Public Health — Seattle & King County.

Mathieu acknowledged the limitations of the Walk Score algorithm, which also doesn't account for crime, steep hills, or climate. Moreover, distances are measured "as the crow flies" rather than actual walking distances on a street grid or around a lake or freeway.

The idea emerged from maps created by the Sightline Institute, a Seattle think tank that promotes environmentally friendly policies.

Last year, researchers at the University of Washington made headlines when they reported that the strongest predictor of obesity rates in King County wasn't income or education but property values. The study bolstered a growing body of evidence that the absence of such neighborhood amenities as farmers markets and grocery stores is linked to higher obesity rates.

"People who live in a more walkable neighborhood are more physically active than people who don't," said Shumann, who was not involved with the UW study.

Seattle will be in the spotlight in early September when it hosts an international symposium on creating more walkable and bicycle-friendly communities. The conference will bring together public health, transit and urban planners, among others.

For Mathieu, the Walk Score is, well, a step in the direction of helping people make healthier decisions.

"You can save some gas money, maybe lose some weight and help the planet as well."

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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