Bay Area Cities Walk Scorin’ the Talk

799 Market St. on Left

Campbell is a walker’s paradise, but how do other Bay Area cities fare.


By Sharon Simonson

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen Rockwood Capital and Four Corners Properties bought the Water Tower Plaza office and retail building in downtown Campbell, the “walkability” of the neighborhood was cited in the decision to buy. According to Seattle-based Web site and research company Walk Score, downtown Campbell is a “walker’s paradise.” Its 94-point score on a 100-point scale makes it one of the most walkable neighborhoods in Silicon Valley.

[contextly_sidebar id=”9e55d378ef7b8461ce3b5ecbb716e60b”]We in the Bay Area hear a lot about the virtue of urban living, including benefits for the air, natural environment and public health. The region’s preoccupation has been evident for years. First communities created “greenlines” beyond which development was no longer allowed (San Jose’s was established in 1996), then turned to high-density, infill development—preferably close to transit—to house more people and to get them out of their cars.

If walkability is taken as a proxy for urban, Walk Score provides another metric by which to measure our progress toward a “better” (or at least more compact) place to live. San Francisco ranks as the second most-walkable city in the country with an overall walk score of 84.9. (No. 1 New York’s score is 85.3.) Berkeley has a community-wide score of 82; Emeryville an 80. They are the only cities in the Bay Area with overall walkability scores above 70.

A score of 70 is still walkable, said Walk Score co-founder Matt Lerner. Scores from 50 points to 70 signify walkable qualities, but “it would be hard to get by without a car,” he said.

San Jose, Santa Clara County’s largest city with close to a million people, has an overall walkability score of 55—eleven points lower than Los Angeles. Los Gatos, Fremont and Foster City have scores of 52. Even Burlingame, with its downtown Burlingame Avenue shopping district and steady foot traffic, achieves only a 68. Campbell as whole, with a score of 66, is only “somewhat walkable.”

Walk Score created its algorithm to determine a location’s walkability in conjunction with “leading urban planners and universities.” Their question at its most basic is: “How easy is it to live a ‘car-light’ lifestyle?” Lerner said.

The score takes into account attributes such as whether groceries or other necessities can be found within walking distance and if routes from home to destinations are suitable for walking: How long are the blocks? What do the intersections look like?

Yet, hope abides. Walk Score produces colored maps to signify walkable and not-so walkable areas. Walkable areas are green; unwalkable areas are red. San Jose’s middling score conceals lots of walkable neighborhoods. Downtown San Jose has a walk score of 74. Add Willow Glen, Midtown and the Washington-Guadalupe neighborhoods—three downtown-adjacent suburbs that have added housing and development density in the last decade—and a significant, walkable core is emerging. The same is true on the Peninsula, where the string of green circles seems destined to expand and join.

Rockwood also has acquired office properties in downtown San Jose and Mountain View in the last year or so. In Mountain View, the former Mayfield Mall building is smack dab in the middle of an emerging walkable node where a former low-lying shopping center is undergoing massive redevelopment into a mixed-use, high-density village. It is next to a transit station.

Walk Score measurements are updated regularly, Lerner said. Common sense would predict that infill development is at the heart of a region’s growing its walk score. Billions of dollars in new housing, corporate campuses, hotels and offices are under construction in the Bay Area, especially from San Francisco down the Peninsula and into North San Jose. Virtually all of it is infill.

Most walkable cities in each of the region’s major counties with 2013 mid-year median home prices:
Source: ZipRealty Inc.

[table] San Francisco County,Median Price,Walk Score
Financial District,$1.1 million,98
Duboce Triangle,”$885,000″,97
Telegraph Hill,”$742,250″,97
Van Ness/Civic Center,”$464,000″,96
Mission District,”$770,000″,96
[/table] [table] Alameda County,Median Price,Walk Score
[/table] [table] San Mateo,Median Price,Walk Score
Half Moon Bay,”$780,000″,91
Burlingame,$1.48 million,68
San Mateo,”$750,000″,67
Daly City,”$580,000″,63
[/table] [table] Santa Clara,Median Price,Walk Score
Mountain View,”$787,500″,66
Santa Clara,”$655,000″,64
Palo Alto,$1.77 million,63
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