Is San Fran More Walkable Than NYC?

Remember that web site, Walk Score, that you could use to rank your neighborhood’s pedestrian-friendliness? They just came out with a souped-up new version that is very cool yet somehow manages to rank San Francisco the #1 most walkable city in the U.S. and New York City #2. Is Eastern Queens really dragging us down that badly? Doesn’t pretty much everyone have a car in the Bay Area? Of the 138 "Walker’s Paradises" (neighborhoods with a Walk Score of 90 or higher) 38 can be found in New York.

The new web site takes the opportunity to do a bit of advocacy work as well. Check this out:

You can improve America’s Walk Score by urging Congress to support walking, biking and transit in the 2009 Transportation Bill. Right now, Congress is getting ready to write the new 2009 Transportation Bill-an opportunity that only comes along once a decade. Did you know?

Congress spends about $60 billion a year on transportation.

Getting a great Walk Score doesn’t happen by chance. Walkable neighborhoods result from smart policy decisions that allocate our tax dollars and set the rules for development. Unfortunately, current federal rules and funding priorities make it difficult for communities to create walkable neighborhoods.

Walk Score will hand-deliver the list of supporters to Congress on foot, on bike, on bus, and on subway with our partner Transportation for America.

  • Congress spends about $60 billion a year on transportation.
  • Nearly 85% of that goes to expanding or maintaining highways.
  • Only 1.5%—about $3 per American per year—goes to support walking and biking. About 15% goes to support public transit.
  • 83% percent of Americans live in metropolitan areas, yet only 5% live within walking distance of decent public transit.
  • Well yeah, Queens and Staten Island. Their boundaries for San Francisco are geographically teeny compared to New York, and if SF were organized politically the way NYC is, then Oakland and Berkeley would be “outer boroughs” and they’d be much less walkable.

  • JK

    Right you are TPS. This score hinges on political and geographic definitions. For sheer number of people in walkable neighborhoods, NYC is far ahead of SF. (SF pop roughly .7 million vs just Manhattan 1.2 million)Also, what does “decent” public transit mean?

  • Shemp

    Interesting too that all the most “walkable” neighborhoods in NYC but this rating are the city’s most traffic-choked most of the time. A lot of Brooklyn is more pleasant to walk around than these CBD neighborhoods, but maybe the “access” to all the stuff that this score seems to count is a little more distant.

  • Jaywalker

    tps12,

    I couldn’t have said it better myself. Spot on.

    We all know New York is #1 anyhow.

  • The most important impact in book is not transportation, but zoning. Transportation helps attract density which helps bring different residential, commerical, cultural and even light industrial uses together. However, without the right mixes use zoning, you don’t get walkable communities, you get single use suburbs.

  • AP

    As someone who lived in Manhattan for many years, then San Francisco for 2 years before returning to NYC, I say SF is almost as walkable as NYC. The main problem I had in SF is that the city is much more spread out, so while certain neighborhoods and areas are walkable, you can’t really walk across the city the way you can in Manhattan.

    Also, there are monster hills to climb all over SF–did they leave that part out of the surveys?! If you’re in good shape, they slow you down a little bit, but if you’re not, they can slow you down a LOT. Tourists who aren’t used to walking? They trudge VERY SLOWLY up the hills.

    Another reason SF is more walkable is because it has to be: their transit system just can’t match NYC’s. Sure, there are buses and trains, but they don’t cover as much ground as NYC’s, nor do they all run as late at night or as often. BART is most useful for bridge & tunnelers commuting in and out of SF, not within the city.

    Lastly, SF has fantastic weather for walking. If you’re someone who doesn’t like extremes, take note: It rarely gets above 75 degrees or below 45 degrees, so you can walk year-round (just don’t forget an umbrella!).

    So, I’d say it’s a toss-up. I prefer walking in NYC–more to see, more interesting people and there’s always a taxi nearby if you get tired.

  • Jeffrey Hymen

    I don’t hold this utility in high opinion because it is indiscriminate about the destinations it lists. In order to compare with the results from the last time I tried the application, I typed in my old address. No change. Nearest grocery store? It’s real close (0.01 mi.) but it’s that awful bodega on the corner. Nearest restaurant? That twee place across the street. Nearest park? The undeveloped open space about a half-mile away. My old neighborhood is in fact very walkable. But my “Walk Score” of 86 is based on highly dubious data and that makes me discount any and all results using this utility.

  • brian goldner

    after living in NYC & SF I think NYC is way more walkable than SF. Their higher score might have something to do with walkscore.com’s blunt reporting system. For instance, I was looking at my neighborhood once and for the closest school it pulled up a karate school down the block…

    as AP said tho, NYC has much better transit than SF and the terrrain is easier to walk.

    I’d like to see a bikescore.com that takes into account transit, weather, terrain and density. A lot of cities that are flat but somewhat spread out would prolly score quite nicely. Sacramento is a city that is a little too sprawling for walking but is excellent for biking.

  • brooke

    Aaron,

    Calling it San Fran is so not cool. Neither is “Frisco”.

    p.s. the Big Apple is more walkable.

  • J. Mork

    There is a (eerily) similar site at http://drivescore.fizber.com/ that if you go into the settings will let you choose between drive, bike or walk score.

  • um,
    just a quick point, first off San Fran & Manhattan are comparable in size, check out: http://www.radicalcartography.net/?manhattan
    however, when i went to SF i definitely felt Manhattan was more walkable.
    Also, why is Eastern Queens singled out, (I’m from the easternmost reaches of the erstwhile Town of Flushing). Isn’t Staten Island redder than anywhere in Queens County? (Some of the sections of Jamaica and Brooklyn in red are not inhabited — like JFK, and the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, and most of Alley Pond Park, and Cunningham Parks in Flushing are Forever Wild Refuge areas so they shouldn’t be walkable anyways.)

  • Max Rockatansky

    Hi Joby – That doesn’t really seem accurate based on my memory so I did a quick check on wikipedia to compare the city sizes – San Francisco is 232 square miles vs NYC at 469 square miles. I’m not sure how Walk Score calculates these things. I’d agree with you that NY is more walkable, especially when you factor in those hills!

  • GR

    1st off: TPS is spot on. Berkeley wouldn’t be a borough, it would be Williamsburg or Astoria. To get to the equivalent of eastern queens, you have to go a good 35 miles out from SF.

    Even discounting the rest of the bay area, there is no possible way SF a sa city is more walkable than NYC.

  • San Francisco is only 49 square miles, not 232. It’s basically 7 miles by 7 miles. Hills aren’t such a problem (you just stop and rest and take in the view or walk backwards on the steepest ones), but entitled drivers and their enabling city agencies are. Sidewalk parking goes unenforced, and right of way violations are rampant.

  • I checked on Wikipedia and this is what i found for Land Area
    New York County – 22.96 sq mi (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manhattan)
    New York City – 304.8 sq mi (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_york_city)
    San Francisco City & County – 46.7 sq mi (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_francisco)
    so i guess you could say SF is roughly 2ce the size of Manhattan.

    I stand corrected.

    when you juxtapose the two on a map though you see there isn’t an enormous difference between the two cities when it comes to size. (see my above post, http://www.radicalcartography.net/?manhattan check out manhattan compared to SF and to LA). When you compare either to LA at 4000 sq miles, its obvious that being on islands or a peninsula makes for a better check on suburban sprawl than one might assume. Most of the suburban sprawl in NYC began after the building of automobile centered bridges, or conversion of existing bridges to primarily automotive use, and the building of limited access roads and highways. My guess is suburban sprawl really took off in SF metro area after similar infrastructural changes.

  • I stand corrected,

    I checked on Wikipedia and this is what I found for Land Area
    New York County – 22.96 sq mi (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manhattan)
    New York City – 304.8 sq mi (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_york_city)
    San Francisco City & County – 46.7 sq mi (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_francisco)
    so i guess you could say SF is roughly 2ce the size of Manhattan.

    when you juxtapose the two on a map though you see there isn’t an enormous difference between the two cities when it comes to size. (see my above post, http://www.radicalcartography.net/?manhattan check out Manhattan compared to SF and to LA) When you compare either to LA at 4000 sq miles, its obvious that being on islands or a peninsula makes for a better check on suburban sprawl than one might assume. Most of the suburban sprawl in NYC began after the building of automobile centered bridges, or conversion of existing bridges to primarily automotive use, and the building of limited access roads and highways. My guess is suburban sprawl really took off in SF metro area after similar infrastructural changes.

  • iso

    GR, I’m not sure where you get the 35 mile figure; Times Square to Far Rockaway is 16 miles in a straight line (just used the ruler tool in Google Earth).

    It is true that NYC is 10 times the land area and about 11 times the population as SF. Therefore these things should be put in perspective. If 90% of SF residents and 86% of NYC residents have a walkscore above 70, that means that there are 10 times as many people in NYC with “Very Walkable” walkscores (even if the ratio is slightly lower).

  • gagneur

    There are alot of apple and orange people posting. New York City (of which Manhattan is a borough) has 10x the population of SF and a vastly greater size and without a doubt is more enjoyably walkable. Most of SF walking is relentlessly residential, although pleasant. I’d say that the outer sunset, or Diamond Heights is about as unwalkable as anything outer Queens or SI has on offer, but this is all subjective. Using a computer to determine it will never be right and never satisfy our desire to beat out another place for whatever the category is. That’s my $.02

  • Chris in Sacramento

    yeah, but in SF you can walk to pot shops…joking sorta, but really, what makes Amsterdam a great place for bicycling or walking…is it the rinky-dinky three-foot wide barrier-separated bike lanes where you get trapped behind 70-year olds riding 6mph* and get honked at cars if you attempt to make a normal left turn…or is it the fact that within a mile of anywhere, you can bicycle or walk to smoke pot, examine some Van Goghs, leer at potential sex partners, stroll the cute canal lanes, sip some Grolsch on tap…plus just how awful it is to own/operate/park a car there, etc…

    * granted that 70-year olds biking is a beautiful thang

  • Robert Manson

    Nice to see NYC rushing to defend itself against SF since as a SF local I’m used to the opposite. =)

    I don’t think the site takes weather into account but that is certainly a big factor when walking.

    Its true that transit is better in Manhattan than SF but they are comparing SF to all 5 boroughs so I think that might be what pushes SF over.

  • Matt in SF

    Regardless of who is the ‘winner’ and whether the score is perfect, the great thing is that we are talking about walkability as a desirable and definable quality. Very few planning codes have managed to encourage walkability in a successful way. Understanding and celebrating walkable neighborhoods is a first step towards replicating their success.

  • Now I know this is the NYC vs. SF brawl but I just want to throw in a comment from the Emerald City: Where in the hell do they get their numbers?

    First of all Pioneer Square is the highest rated Seattle neighborhood but there is literally NO good restaurants in the area and you can forget about schools. In fact, unless you have a subsidized apartment, no one lives here.

    This is because everyone lives in Capitol Hill, which, interestingly DIDN’T make the list. I find this absolutely unbelievable when it is certainly Seattle’s most accessible and easily walkable community.

    Also, how could Wallingford, an almost entirely SFH neighborhood, beat out Lower Queen Anne.

    These personal observations put this prettylow on my reliability scale.

  • sean

    What’s with LA getting such a good score?

  • Ray

    Great analysis suggesting that the pedestrian rules in both cities. Sadly, its taking too long for our interests to come to the forefront (kudos to mayor Bloomberg for trying!).

    Both San Francisco and Manhattan need wider sidewalks on every street. Mayors take the lead! US transit rich cities need to take back at least one lane now given up to private vehicle parking. The opportunity is now. Let’s expand sidewalks, plant more trees and let our cities breath a little.

  • I usually refer to my part of Queens as Northeast Queens. Anyway, it is rather walkable – especially on hot days. More tree-lined streets and certainly good biking locale. When you can walk to a park with a nice piece of wilderness – Alley Pond Park, or in the northern end, the Alley Wetlands, who should complain. There is so much to like about such low-density parts of the city that the Mayor and his planners and cronies would just like to tear down and remake as big-box housing. I’ve always maintained that these kind of communities could be viewed as the most livable of communities.

  • Scott

    Ray, that’s a great idea, should be cheap and easy to implement in Manhattan. Plenty of extra space available for wider sidewalks. Someone get Bloomberg on the line.

  • Corey, you’re right that there are some great walks in Northeast Queens. One of the best, ironically, is along the Vanderbilt Motor Parkway, which was the first limited-access highway in the country.

    I have to disagree with you about the northern end of Alley Pond Park, though. When was the last time you tried to walk to the Alley Pond Environmental Center? It’s dangerous, discouraging, and generally an embarassment to Queens – an unwalkable environmental education center.

    Walking for recreation is important to livability, but one of the main bases for the Walk Score is how easy it is to walk to shopping and work. Here in Woodside I have ten full-size supermarkets within a mile, and plenty of specialty stores. I can also walk to the subway, which gets me to just about anywhere in Manhattan within an hour.

    In Northeast Queens there are some areas that are walking distance from shopping and the LIRR or express buses, but a lot of them are not so walkable. Over the past several years, the people of Northeast Queens have had the chance to put forth a vision that includes moderate, pedestrian-oriented density near train stations and express bus stops, enough to support stores that cater to pedestrians. Instead the future for the neighborhoods has been fought over by developers who want to shoehorn as many apartments and parking spaces into the area as possible, and residents who want to preserve the unsustainable sprawl as it was in 1990.

  • surf n.

    Ummm Oakland and Berkely would not and will never be part of the city of San Francisco, because they are and have always been their own cities, set on the other side of the San Franciso Bay. It’s not the same thing as Brooklyn and Queens which are merely on the opposite shore of a “river” bank. TPS’s comment is spurious at best.

    I am a New Yorker, by the way.

  • Eddie Wilson

    > I say SF is almost as walkable as NYC.

    Oh really?

    “The main problem I had in SF is that the city is much more spread out… you can’t really walk across the city the way you can in Manhattan.”

    “there are monster hills to climb all over SF”

    “their transit system just can’t match NYC’s.”

    Wow, you made an awesome case…. its too far to walk, its hard to walk, and the non-car options suck.

    If you were a lawyer, you’d lose every case.

  • Eddie Wilson

    > Ummm Oakland and Berkely would not and will never be part of the city of
    > San Francisco, because they are and have always been their own cities

    Ummm… Brooklyn was also its own city.

    And, um, um, you completely missed the point anyway.

  • Marcus

    > > Ummm Oakland and Berkely would not and will never be part of the city of
    > > San Francisco, because they are and have always been their own cities

    > Ummm… Brooklyn was also its own city.

    And Queens was a collection of independent villages – and during it’s absorption into New York City the villages fought to keep their independent names. That’s why the addresses in Queens use Astoria, Flushing, Woodside, etc., instead of Queens, NY.

  • James

    I’d say San Francisco is almost as walkable as New York in certain areas: if you consider North Beach through Chinatown, down to Downtown and Union Square, then over to the Civic Center, up to the Haight, Fillmore, Pacific Heights, and the Marina. And then down to the Mission. Those are all faily connected and very walkable and accessible.

    But the rest of the city is not as walkable. It’s definitely urban (much more than, say, most of Seattle) but not even close to being as walkable as much of NYC.

    Also, someone made a good point about the rest of the Bay Area. Remember the entire Bay Area has around 7.5 million and outside of SF and parts of Oakland and Berkeley, it’s not very dense at all (there are walkable town centers in Palo Alto, Walnut Creek, etc. but they are surrounded by suburbs).

    Meanwhile, just NYC has 8 million people! So, yeah, NYC is far more walkable. That said, I would put San Francisco at #2, Chicago at #3, and Boston at #4.

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