walk score

While walking to the bus this morning I was thinking about the tag game that Fat Cyclist started.

I was wondering what kind of questions I’d want to ask the world. It probably sounds strange given the other 99% of content on this blog, but I am much more passionate about good neighborhoods than good bicycles.

My neighborhood (Roosevelt, a long thin neighborhood sandwhiched in between Green Lake and Ravenna in Seattle) was recently recognized by WalkScore as one of the most walkable neighborhoods in Seattle. I had forgotten about WalkScore until our neighborhood association got excited about this recognition. The tool itself is too simplistic because it doesn’t have any way to rank the quality of what one can walk to. A 7-11 and a Safeway and a Whole Foods are all grocery stores in it’s mind. McDonalds counts as food, even though I would never eat there.

This got me thinking though. What do I like about my neighborhood?

The Good

Whole Foods is 3 blocks away. I’m not entirely a Whole Foods fan, but they do sell the kinds of food that I eat at good prices. Having a good grocery store 3 blocks away means that I can stop by almost every day and am almost always eating fresh food instead of stuff that has been sitting in my kitchen for a week. I routinely realize that I’m missing something that would make a good meal great and quickly run over while other stuff is cooking. I can’t imagine living far away from a grocery store.

In the same vein the University District Farmer’s Market is 13 blocks away. I think this is the best of Seattle’s wonderful farmer’s market. It isn’t padded out with crafts and soap and things that don’t matter, it just has great local, mostly organic, food. It went year round a couple of years ago. I visit 2-3 times per month and in the summer almost all of our produce comes from the market.

Since I’ve moved here the number of places to eat breakfast have grown. I like eating breakfast out. The newest additions are Cowen Park Grocery and the Racer Cafe. Cowen Park Grocery used to be a cheap beer and cigarettes type of store, but a few years ago they completely renovated it. The new CPG has a great little cafe with good healthy food anda nice staff.Best of all much of my neighborhood is eating breakfast there on weekends, so showing up on a Sunday morning always gives me a chance to chat with some neighbors that I haven’t seen in a while. Racer Cafe is a little more greasy and gritty but the staff has a great sense of humor. It’s tiny and the kitchen is next to the bar and it feels like you are eating in someone’s living room. Since it is a tiny place everyone sits together and chats. It’s a fun place. We also have the Sunlight Cafe (good vegetarian food), Varsity (greasier than CPG, less so than the Racer) and others that I’m forgetting.

A direct bus to work is 5 blocks away and only has 3 stops to where I get off.

Third Place Books moved in about 4 years ago and has been a great addition. They have a nice pub downstairs and a great selection of new and used books upstairs.

Scarecrow Video has to be the best video store in the country and they are less than a mile away. They have a larger video selection than Netflix,a good staff,cheap rentals (2 for 1 if you are a KEXP member). We spend lots of money there. If I lived anywhere else I’d probably join Netflix, but as long as Scarecrow is close by I’m going to be renting exclusively from them.

We have a great park only a block away. Cowen Park/Ravenna Park (I don’t understand why one park has two names) has nice walking trails, a good play ground, and nice fields. My favorite thing is that most of the park is in a deep ravene and in the trails in that bottom it’s hard to remember that you are in the city.

The Bad

I wish we had a hardware store a little closer to the house. Normally I go to the Maple Leaf Ace Hardware which is a great store but about 35 blocks up hill. It’s an easy bike ride, but I’d love for it to be closer. Downhill I can go to the University District True Value (the closest one within walking distance) and Hardwick’s (which has the best hand tool selection of any hardware store that I’ve been to). 2 blocks away is R&R Hardware, but it is owned and run by our neighborhood slum lords who hire dangerous people.

It’s too far from work, and a no-bikes bridge prevents me from easily biking the whole route every day.

We have great public transit access to everywhere but Seattle Center. It irk’s me to drive to music festivals.

Amazingly (because Seattle seems to have Thai food everywhere) there is not good Thai food very close by. We go to Krittika which is3 blocks from our old house and 13 from the current one. Royal Palm is close to us and used to be okay, but it’s recently gone downhill.

The Map

I took a map of our neighborhood and drew dots on the places that we frequent. There are tons more commercial establishments within walking distance (especially along Roosevelt and 65th), these are just the ones that we go to at least monthly.

Not too shabby, especially for a neighborhood with mostly seperated houses. I should finish up by saying that Christine and I really wanted to live here. I think our real estate agent thought we were crazy when gave them a 6 block area that we wanted to buy a house in.

What do you like and dislike about your neighborhood? What would be the ideal one for you? What stuff do you like to have within walking distance (nothing is a reasonable answer if you prefer to live away from civilization)?


  1. stevep says:

    Not Seattle, but living in Coolidge Corner in Brookline, MA (near Boston) is just about tops for me. Walk to shops, movies, restaurants, train, etc. Diverse neighborhood (rare in Boston). Parks nearby, easy to get out of the city. Contrary to popular opinion, Boston is extremely bike-friendly. Only downside, real estate is too expensive to stay in the neighborhood for the long haul.
    nice cycle truck.

  2. Jimmy Livengood says:

    Ah, so true. Our quality of life (meaning me and my wife, but also everyone else, I bleieve) is directly related to where we live. I”m up on Crown Hill, specifically on 13th just north of 85th. We rent, but would consider buying in this neighborhood.

    Pros: Safeway, QFC very close. Greenwood market, Ballard market quite close. Ballard farmer’’s market pretty close too. Lots of restaurants on greenwood/phinney. Wild Mountain, Dicks, Acorn, Library Cafe, Thai Siam, Burrito Loco very close. And really Phinney, U-district, Ballard are all just a stones-throw away. Island video is wonderful(on Greenwood).

    Downhill to everything. The 15 and 48 buses are practically at our doorstep, and they go all over (though not directly to either of our workplaces).

    Good rides to our jobs (mine on Findlay St/south 1st. hers on 8th and 35th NE.)

    Close to the sound. We routinely take an evening walk to the beach at Carkeek park. (Tip: go north on Mary street to where it dead-ends in a ravine trail that takes you to the park). Golden Gardens is very close, a quick ride for an evening picnic at the beach. Numerous other small parks with tennis courts, fields, etc. are walking distance. Close enough to Lake union, Lake Washington, Golden Gardens which are places we”ll take the canoe for a quick day paddle/lunch.

    Good access to 15th street, Aurora Ave, I-5 for quick exits out of town on the weekend, easy to give directions to our house.

    Fantastic morning and afternoon sun, especially the way our house is laid out. Readers from Seattle can appreciate this.

    Cons:Near those bus routes means the noise of buses. 85th st. and 15th are very busy. No sidewalks where we are, which really affects the feel of the neighborhood. No sense of community, but it’’s getting there.(maybe we haven”t lived here long enough).

    Wishes: I wish my neighborhood was less “between” and more off to the side, so most vehicle traffic wouldn”t go right through the neighborhood.

    I”d love to be in Bellingham or Olympia, because when I visit friends there we can ride directly into the countryside. This is different from living out in the Seattle burbs, it’’s more a function of living in a smaller town overall(or at least with less sprawl), and I think that”d suit me better.

    Great post, alex! really gets me thinking about what/where is next when we”re done renting our current place.

  3. dhd says:

    It’’s not on the list of top cities, but my last two addresses in Pittsburgh both got walk scores of 97. It can be a real nightmare to bike here at times, but we have a healthy collection of walker’’s paradises. Unfortunately once you need to leave your neighbourhood, the public transit is pretty unreliable.

    Where I live now is no longer a walker’’s paradise but it’’s much better from a bus and bike standpoint. Actually it’’s somewhat infamous as a massively failed experiment in car-centric urban renewal.

  4. AlexWetmore says:

    Jimmy — I”m often jealous of the living situation that my friends in Olympia and Spokane have too. It is nice being close to many things and easily being able to bike into the woods. The downside is that the job availability is greatly reduced, and we”ve made a pretty solid base of friends in Seattle.

    The 48 is an amazing bus. It goes pretty much everywhere that I want to go that isn”t downtown. Handy how they stuck all of that into one bus line.

    dhd — I went to college in Pittsburgh (CMU) and while I owned a bike at the time I hardly used it. Pittsburgh is a wonderful walking city. I mostly lived in Shadyside or Oakland but would walk everywhere. I often miss my 2 mile morning commute/walk through tree lined streets in Shadyside down to campus.

  5. Phil says:

    I live in Sellwood/Westmoreland in Portland, and you”ve basically summed up everything I like about my neighborhood. The walk score is probably a good proxy for “local livability”, since I think most urban neighborhoods follow a bimodal distribution– either you can get most of what you need to “live” in them, or you have to go outside for everything. I
    I see the main problem with the walk score is that it too-closely measures density and discounts things like safety and “pleasant to actually walk around”. Oldtown-Chinatown in Portland is #2 in the walkable ranking, but this is also one the most unpleasant places to be in the whole city.

    Your neighborhood probably has similar zoning to mine, where most of the neighborhood is R zoned and some main roads are C zoned: http://tinyurl.com/634wtx The “localness” of a neighborhood is probably some function of the R/C mix and the average distance you need to travel to get to a C zone.

    Our neighborhood necessities are quite similar: we have both a Whole Foods like grocery (New Seasons) and a QFC, a farmers market (which I helped start), a hardware store, a first run single screen movie theatre, and an independent video store.

  6. AlexWetmore says:

    Phil — I think you are correct about walkscore. Pleasant to walk around is very important and not at all considered. A condo building across the interstate from a strip mall with the essentials would get a high walkscore, but wouldn”t actually be walkable.

    Movie theaters are important to us too, and luckily we have 4 located about 1 mile south of us. We walk down there to see movies fairly often. I see less movies in the summer, so it wasn”t on my mind this week.

    Our neighborhood (http://tinyurl.com/5nw2pj) is a mix of SF5000 (single family, <5000sqft) with some NC2 and NC3 (light commercial) along 65th, 15th, and Roosevelt.

    http://www.lostinseattle.com is another fun way to explore neighborhoods. It is like an online mapping yellow pages. Here is us: http://tinyurl.com/6amlwf

  7. Sean says:

    I only live a couple miles away from you N-NW, my one complaint is that I live at the top of a hill and there’’s nothing I hate more than finishing a ride with a climb(ok, there’’s actually a lot of things I hate more). Oh wait, I”d also like better access to mountain bike trails, less traffic, and a job that doesn”t require an internal combustion engine. For now I”m happy where I”m at. In a couple of years when my wife is done with her residency we may no longer live here anyway so I”m not really sweating the small stuff.

    I”m surprised that you failed to mention the Blue Onion Bistro, just down the street and it’’s nearly the best breakfast I”ve found in town(second only to Tilth).

  8. I”d like to represent for the south end. My wife and I bought a house in South Park. A lot of people dismiss our neighborhood as a ghetto, but it is actually a wonderful little community.

    Pros: I have a 4 and a half mile bicycle commute to my job in South Seattle. The wife has a 20 minute bus ride.
    Some of the best Mexican food in the city is located a few blocks down the street.
    There are plenty of great shops in Georgetown a short (and flat) bike ride away.
    Most of West Seattle is located within a few miles.
    It is fairly easy to ride south via the Duwamish River trail, West to Alki, or North via a number of paths to get anywhere in the city within 30 to 45 minutes on a bike.
    Our neighbors are amazingly friendly. Helpful when needed, never bother us when we want to be hermits.

    Cons: Very very poor grocery options. No good options in walking distance.
    West Seattle, although close, is up a pretty good hill. I”m sick enough to enjoy the bike ride… but many people don”t. If you take your car though, it is a short drive.
    Connections to bike paths up North aren”t as complete as they should be. There are some rough roads on the south end.

    All things considered, I have been extremely happy with South Park as a whole. It is only going to get better in my eyes.

  9. Tom L says:

    Ever since visiting the Whole Foods in Ravenna I”ve been interested in that area of town. I hadn”t seen a Seattle neighborhood with so many trees before. There are a few places in Seattle that I would like to live, something walkable to Cap Hill, Ravenna, Madison or Fremont. But for us work overrules and living 1.5 miles from work has been great at saving time throughout the week. I am not unhappy about living in Redmond with the parks and trails and we ride bikes to downtown often. It’’s not walkable, though. Haha, Redmond has a walkscore of 94. They don”t realize that the dense commercial district is far from most of the residents…

  10. AlexWetmore says:

    When we were buying a house in 1998 we considered staying in Redmond for the same reasons of living near work (at the time Christine was working for Chatteau St Michelle in Woodinville). However we gave up when we couldn”t find a house (not a townhouse or condo) with a nice walk to the grocery stores. At the time I didn”t have a driver’’s license, so this was a requirement, not just a want.

    Redmond has grown up a lot in the last 10 years and I don”t really know it very well anymore. I hope it’’s improved. There seems to be a lot of commercial development, but most of it is still in the form of strip malls. Those are often very unfriendly to cycling and pedestrians.

  11. Rory says:

    I live close to Alex, in Wallingford, which has a pretty high walking score. it’’s great for walking, with an assortment of restarants on 45th, and the fremont neighborhood close enough to consider as well. we have 2 choices in grocery stores, however, they are just far enough to be slightly more convenient by bike, rather then walking (about a half mile to either qfc or pcc).

    using wallingford as a stating point for utilitarian bike rides is great, since you can access a lot of different neighborhoods for shopping, and meeting friends. however, i would not rate it very high for longer/faster recreational cycling. you would have to ride somewhere between 10-20 miles to get to a nice country style ride with good climbs in it. Since i work on the east side, and i like this kind of riding better, i
    m still considering moving over, but i still haven”t found the east side wallingford equivealent in bellevue/redmond/issaquah.

  12. beth h says:

    Thanks for the link to Walkscore; I hadn”t heard of it before. Very interesting to check out how my neighborhood fared. N/NE Portland’’s Woodlawn neighborhood, while oh-so-slowly gentrifying, is still down-at-heel in many respects. It got a walkability score somewhere near the middle that I have to take with a grain of salt: Walkscore’’s info is several years out of date. Half the establishments listed in this area no longer exist, and in one case the building isn”t even there anymore (it burned down two years ago and is now an empty lot waiting to be developed).

    Interestingly, when Sweetie and I went house-shopping in ”03, the two considerations were how much we could afford (not much), and distance from my workplace (we told our realtor it could be no farther than 7 miles out because 14 miles RT was how far I was willing to commute by bicycle). We got lucky, and found a TINY fixer-upper five miles from work. We probably couldn”t buy our house today, and the neighborhood is still lacking many amenities within walking distance — though the Arbor Lodge New Seasons is an easy 2-mile bike ride away, the OVerlook farmers” market is about 3 miles away and we live on or very near at least three different bus routes. That all counts for a lot.

  13. AlexWetmore says:

    Beth — I don”t know who can afford houses today. We”d have trouble buying our house today too, I”m glad that we bought it 5 years ago. At the time I thought we were buying near the top of the market.

    Rory — I don”t know of the equivelent on the eastside. Maybe near downtown Kirkland. I think Issaquah is the nicest jumping off point for eastside riding, but I”ve never been impressed with it’’s walkability. Hopefully that will improve over time.

  14. michael says:

    I got a good laugh out of my neighborhoods walk score. The walk score folks thought it was cool that I live near a library. They missed that the library is inside a prison.

  15. John K says:

    I”m in the eastern edge of ballard at the foot of phinney ridge. Many of the amenities mentioned were important to me when chosing to live here. In fact, when we were looking to buy a house we identified all the grocery stores that had a consistent supply of organic food and drew 0.5 mile radiuses around each (back then it was PCC and Thriftways – Whole Foods hadn”t gotten to seattle). We then added things like movie theaters, the library, bus routes to downtown.

    What’’s interesting is that between then and now, we have had a daughter. And I can tell you that the amenities you think are important shift radically with an 18 month old. Groceries are, of course, still there. But I haven”t seen a movie (or a video) in over a year. Instead, I”m at the park a lot and walk to the Zoo a couple of times a month. It’’s nice to have a good park within walking distance and several more in riding distance (I just got an IBert for carrying her on the front of the bike) – and the city just bought a nice parcel north of us -http://www.seattle.gov/parks/proparks/projects/BallardPark.htm – which should be really nice when done.

  16. Dan Boxer says:

    I”ll second the props for the South End (Seattle). My girlfriend and have lived in the Seward Park neighborhood for three years this October. Katie grew up just a few blocks north of where we live.

    Walkability is so-so. Grocery options are not the best, though the PCC is a short bike ride away. It’’s got just about everything we need, but it’’s pretty expensive. Columbia City also has an excellent Farmer’’s Market May – October, as well as a _real_ butcher shop and a very yummy bakery. There are some nice restaurants in CC as well as a movie theater. My commute to work, Bike Works, is under two miles, depending on how I go – which I like, options for bike commute route, especially since it’’s so short. Katie takes the bus/bikes a few times a week to Wallingford, but also has to drives sometimes, since her works takes her to multiple locations hauling gardening tools and paraphernalia.

    I like the diversity of our neighborhood (ethnic, religious, economic, etc.). Our neighbors are friendly, helpful, not nosey. We were able to buy a large lot with a smallish house for a very reasonable amount. Prices have risen in the last few years, but with the current real estate market, there are still some pretty nice places. We”ve been able to do so much with our yard and spend a lot of time out there during the warm weather months. We recently built a fire pit – if you have space and enough distance from your neighbors, I highly recommend it! I also like that my cat has a healthy stomping grounds.

    We are walking distance to Lake Washington, two beaches and short biking distance to Seward Park, with it’’s beautiful hiking trails and beaches and vistas. It’’s easy to ride to the east side and all the beautiful roads. West Seattle is very accessible – I can get to the Fauntleroy ferry in about 45 minutes by bike.

    Our neighborhood often gets a bad rap re: crime. I don”t really find it to be any worse than any other part of town. Maybe I”m unaware, but I prefer the quietude available to us down here over the busy ness of Captiol Hill/Belltown/University District/etc… I must admit, I don”t leave the south end all that much with work so close. But that just makes it more of an adventure to see the rest of the city and realize how rapidly things are developing and changing (for better and worse).

    Public libraries are nearby. The Chief Sealth trail is nearby. I-90 trail access is also very close.

    Sometimes, I wish we were closer to Ballard for the nightlife (one of my favorite venues is the Tractor) and Second Ascent and the used record store, as well as Golden Gardens. Again, this makes it more of an event to get out there, by bike or car.

    I also wish we had a quality hardware store nearby. My first choice would be a place like Hardwick’’s, mentioned in Alex’’s blog.

    Getting to the airport, which really isn”t that important to us anymore, is a short 20 minute drive. When the lightrail opens, it should be pretty convenient. I”m excited to be able to take it north of here as well, though I tend to avoid downtown under most circumstances.

    Seattle is a great city, with lots of separate neighborhoods, each with their own qualities and attributes. I”m glad to be able to enjoy it by bike. Thanks for the blog Alex. It got me really thinking about how lucky we all are to live here!

  17. n roberts says:

    i live in south harting, uk. i”d say i have a pretty lovely walk score that suits me and my missus. we are right in the middle of the south downs national park (very rural), and the 110 mile offroad bridalway from winchester to brighton is visible from our front door and is a source of endless biking fun. We have a local shop in our village that sells organic vegetables supplied by the villagers and farms nearby. It also sells amazing ballards beer, brewed 2 miles away in nyewood. We have 3 pubs within 2 miles of our house, all proper pubs, with local real ale and pork scratchings and muddy floors. Our neighbours are fantastic, and we swap eggs from our 5 chickens for vegetables from peoples gardens. petersfield is a pleasant 5 mile cycle, for all the supermarkets (if you like supermarkets), and libraries, and coffee shops. Because it’’s rural, people always ask us if we get bored, but in the countryside, villagers actually talk to each other, and go round to each others houses for tea, and are genuine friends. it’’s nice.

  18. Chris Lowe says:

    I used to live a few blocks from Alex in Ravenna. It is a great ”hood and my wife and I wish we could have afforded to buy a house there.

    We wound up buying a fixer upper in Maple Leaf, a bit northwest of Ravenna. We were still close to Whole Paycheck but also gained the best coffee shop (Cloud City), hardware store (Maple Leaf Ace) and a great video store (Reckless). Downside to that house was that it was right on 80th which is pretty busy.

    A few months ago we moved (again!!) to Crown Hill. At first it seemed like we were moving to the suburbs but we found a spacious house on a very quiet street where everyone seems to know each other. Bonus for us is having plenty of neighbors with small children. Since being here we”ve really come to love our new ”hood even more than Ravenna or Maple Leaf. We have the locally owned Ballard Market which is 20 blocks away in addition to a Safeway and QFC that are within 3 minutes walking distance. Also a great bakery (Larsen’’s). The local hardware store (Crown Hill Hardware) blows big time so I still have to schlep to Stone Way. Also miss have a great coffee shop and video store within close walking distance. Rain City video is great but not within walking distance. Cafe Fiore is a great coffee shop but at 15 blocks away it’’s a bit of a walk. We do gain from having so many fantastic parks nearby. Bicycling to work downtown is a snap since it’’s largely a downhill. Of course coming back is almost all uphill and with headwinds. Fortunately I can also take the 15 or 18 bus.

  19. Tom L says:

    I don”t mean to use Alex’’s blog to make conversation, but to N Roberts: My brother lived in Petersfield and I visited him about 11 years ago. It was a nice little town and he was very happy with everything about it, like access to the train, knowing his neighbors, the long history, and close rural bits. He took me out to a few country-side pubs so I may have actually visited the ones you mention. I was there for a New Year’’s, so experienced the huge party in the town square with young couples kissing in/under/on the horse statue.