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New Research Proves That People Need Our Company

Dr. Larry Frank is a fantastic friend to have.

I’ve never met him before, but he certainly has made life easier for me and others in the walkability field. He is a researcher out of the University of British Columbia. Just about every research project that shows why we need walkable neighborhoods and smart growth seems to have his name (Lawrence usually) attached to it.

His latest research report extensively documents and analyzes the the Atlanta region and produced some interesting results. In fact, the research found what I have been guesstimating myself for quite a while – that about 5% of homes are in walkable neighborhoods, yet the market is such that one third of people would live in walkable neighborhoods if they could (i.e. too expensive, poor schools, etc.). Here is a highlight of some of the interesting findings from the report (My apologies for copying this from the report, it’s just too interesting not to share!):

How Atlantans Travel

Atlantans, on average, drive more miles daily than residents of most other regions of the nation.
The distance driven grows steadily as counties get farther from the urban core. Residents in the central counties (Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, Gwinnett, Douglas) drive an average of 32.7 miles/59 minutes daily per person, while those in the outlying counties drive an average of almost 44 miles/72 minutes daily.

Daily commutes are often the longest trips people make
The average commute distance in the region is 16.5 miles. Commuters in outlying counties drive far more than that. The average commute trip in Paulding County is 31.6 miles, almost twice the regional average.

People spend nearly as much time in their cars on weekends as on weekdays.
The average distance driven on the weekend is just 6 percent lower than on the weekdays.

Most trips in the region are made by private vehicle.
Just five counties, Forsyth, Clayton, Douglas, DeKalb, and Fulton, reported that more than ten percent of trips were made via public transit, bicycling, walking, carpooling, or all other means combined. Across the region, fewer than five percent of all trips were made on foot; just over 2 percent were made by bus or train. Transit trips make up more than five percent of total trips only in the two counties that have rail transit, Fulton and DeKalb.

Neighborhood Walkability and Driving

People in walkable neighborhoods drive less.
SMARTRAQ found that people who live in neighborhoods with the lowest walkability drive an average of 39 miles per person each weekday, 30 percent more than those who live in areas with the highest walkability. The difference for weekend travel was even greater. On average, residents in the most walkable neighborhoods drive about 40 percent less on the weekend than their counterparts in low-walkability neighborhoods.

People in closer-in, high-walkability neighborhoods take more trips by bicycling, walking or transit.
Transit trips also generally involve a significant amount of walking – three fourths of all trips arriving or departing from MARTA stations are on foot. DeKalb and Fulton counties, the region's most central counties, account for almost 70 percent of the walking trips reported in the entire region, despite being home to only 40 percent of the sampled population.

Less driving reduces a household's expenses.
SMARTRAQ estimates show that households in the most auto oriented areas of the region consume an average of 1048 gallons of gas and spend $2600 per year (assuming two cars per household and $2.50/gallon). Those living in the most walkable areas of the region save substantial amounts of gas and money – on average, two person households in walkable neighborhoods save an estimated 262 gallons of gas a year and spend $640 less.

Neighborhood Walkability and the Environment

Neighborhood walkability is linked to fewer per capita air pollutants. The SMARTRAQ air quality analysis
found that each step up the five-part walkability scale results in a 6 percent reduction in NOx and a 3.7 percent reduction in VOC, which combine to form ozone. Ozone is Atlanta's biggest air quality problem and has been linked to respiratory illnesses.

Neighborhood walkability is linked to fewer per capita greenhouse gases. Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is the primary contributor to greenhouse gases and global warming. Travel patterns of residents in the region's least walkable neighborhoods generated about 20 percent higher CO2 emissions than travel by those who live in the most walkable neighborhoods — about 2,000 extra grams of CO2 per person
each weekday.

Neighborhood Walkability, Obesity and Physical Activity

Neighborhood walkability is linked to more moderate physical activity.
Residents of the most walkable areas of the Atlanta Region are 2.4 times more likely to get the level of activity necessary to maintain health. Thirty-seven percent of people in high-walkability neighborhoods met the US Surgeon General's recommended 30 minutes of daily moderate activity, compared to just 18 percent of residents living in the least walkable neighborhoods.

Neighborhood walkability is linked to lower obesity levels.
People who live in neighborhoods with a mix of shops and businesses within easy walking distance are 7 percent less likely to be obese than those living in a mix level equal to the lower regional average. Although this difference appears small, the relative decrease in the actual probability of obesity is much greater – approximately 35 percent. A typical white male living in a compact community with nearby shops and services is expected to weigh ten pounds less than a similar white male living in a low density, residential-only cul-de-sac subdivision.

Time spent driving is linked to obesity.
Every additional hour spent in a car each day translated into a 6 percent greater chance of being obese. In metro Atlanta, 31 percent of SMARTRAQ travel survey participants on average spend more than an hour and a half a day in the sedentary act of riding in a car.

Youth and Walkability

Open space and neighborhood walkability are linked to youth physical activity and walking.
The amount youth walk is strongly linked with the design of their neighborhood. The presence of at least one recreational space within a kilometer of where youth live was consistently associated with walking in youth of all age groups (between ages 5 and 20). The relationship between walking and neighborhood
design was found to increase in strength as youth approach driving age, and then decline once driving is an option. Young teens (ages 12 to 15) were 2.5 times more likely to report they walk if there was recreational open space within one kilometer of home, and 2.6 times more likely to the report they walked if there was a commercial destination within a kilometer of their home. These same amenities also predicted whether they walked at least half a mile per day. Youth from households with two cars were 1.4 times more likely to report they walked compared with youth from households with 3 or more cars. Those from one-car households were 2.6 times more likely to walk.

The Market for Walkable Neighborhoods

Most neighborhoods in the region are not walkable.
About 60 percent of survey respondents said they are unable to walk to nearby shops and services.
We estimate that only about one in 20 homes in metro Atlanta are in compact and walkable neighborhoods.

There is a considerable demand for more walkable neighborhoods in the region.
After comparing survey respondents” neighborhood preferences with their actual neighborhood choices, researchers believe that in many instances there is a mismatch between the residential environment people choose and the one they actually would prefer. In all, about a third of metro Atlantans living in conventional suburban development would have preferred a more walkable environment, but apparently traded it off for other reasons such as affordability, school quality, or perception of crime. “It is likely that this mismatch between community preference and choice is due to an undersupply of walkable environments.”

A “substantial minority” of Atlanta residents have strong preferences for features of walkable neighborhoods.
Many different neighborhood characteristics were evaluated in the survey, and depending on which characteristics people preferred, between 20 and 40 percent of survey participants have a very strong preference for the most compact and walkable neighborhoods. Forty-nine percent of survey respondents said they would prefer a neighborhood where residents can walk to nearby shopping. Fifty-five percent of respondents would prefer to live in a community that affords shorter travel distances to work, even if it meant smaller residential lots.


The market for walkable neighborhoods section really justifies what we’re trying to do with our referral network – find people homes in walkable neighborhoods. Sometimes people just haven’t thought about how much they drive everywhere and that there’s places where they can walk to all of their activities. This research is good news because it gives us ammo in the war against sprawl. Several so-called expert economists, like Joel Kotkin, argue that people don’t want smart growth and we need to accommodate their suburban lifestyles. While this is true, we also need to accommodate the 25% of people aren’t getting what they want: walkable neighborhoods.

See also: Study: Demand for walkable communities unmet [The Atlanta Journal Constitution]

The photo for this article I shot while walking through a mixed-use neighborhood in the Buckhead District of Atlanta.

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