For those following urban design literature or nonmotorized transportation research, these results may not be shocking. However, new research by Shannon Rogers entitled Examining Walkability and Social Capital as Indicators of Quality of Life at the Municipal and Neighborhood Scales, shines light on the correlation. Rogers, a Ph.D. Candidate at University of New Hampshire, summarizes her findings by stating “that neighborhoods that are more walkable had higher levels of social capital such as trust among neighbors and participation in community events.” Rogers does admit the study does not “prove” a correlation and may be biased – acknowledging that "people who enjoy walking may choose to live in more walkable neighborhoods."
Walkability has become one of the prominent issues in planning, design and transportation. A popular metric used to measure walkability is Walkscore.com which also examines transportation access and provides neighborhood amenities. Walkscore.com recently published their Top 10 Most Walkable Cities list including: San Francisco, New York, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Seattle, Washington D.C., Long Beach California, Los Angles and Portland Oregon.
However, do not be fooled by the metrics. The street network, clustering of amenities and access to transit are great but not safe. A recent San Francisco Chronicle piece titled S.F. streets particularly mean for pedestrians states “more than 800 people are hit by cars in San Francisco each year, making it one of the most dangerous cities in the state - and possibly the country - for pedestrians.” If that number appears high to you, consider San Francisco’s small population and relatively high percentage of pedestrians. The Financial District and Tenderloin neighborhood fair the worst. The city is attempting a pilot project to lower speed limits to 15 miles per hour in targeted areas.