“Where Can We Walk to Lunch?”: The Challenge of Mobility

John Greenman

Letter from Denver

The Millennial Generation, it is often said, has a preference for walkable and compact “live/work/play” environments, and an aversion to the auto-centric suburban lifestyle of their Baby Boom parents. But, as mobility in most metropolitan areas deteriorates due to increasing traffic and a decreasing ability by the public sector to finance expansion (or even proper maintenance) of roadways, it is a matter not only of lifestyle choice but also of economic efficiency to find locations, both residential and commercial, that maximize transit options. The seven Southwestern “Sunbelt” cities in the U.S. that TransEconomics monitors for commercial investment opportunities (Denver, Phoenix, San Diego, Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, and Houston), all grew up mostly in the golden age of the automobile, and are now working to add dedicated bicycle and bus lanes, and to build out commuter rail networks. Denver, Dallas, and San Diego are the furthest along with rail or trolley lines at this point.

Often, however, residents and workers alike would prefer to avoid the need for any form of transit at all, other than their own two legs. Hence the popularity of using a website called Walk Score to get a rating of a location in terms of its “walkability” to amenities such as shops and schools. On this site, if you have a street address, you can get a Walk Score, at least anywhere in the U.S., Canada, and Australia; no doubt the service will eventually come to Latin America too. Walk Score rates locations on a scale of 1 to 100, with the higher the number the better. Older cities generally have neighborhoods with high walk scores due to their traditional pedestrian-friendly street grids. For example, 725 5th Avenue in Manhattan, the residential address of someone named Donald Trump, gets a perfect 100 score. Scores can vary widely within both center city and suburban areas (my house in suburban Denver only gets a 49 rating).

As we look at investment opportunities going forward we will be using Walk Score as one of the metrics in our analysis.

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