Group ranks most and least walkable Iowa cities

The Seattle-based group Walk Score released its 2011 rankings of the country's most walkable cities today. At this page you can view the "walk scores" of the 2,500 largest U.S. cities, or look at cities grouped by region or state.

After the jump I've posted some of the Iowa findings, as well as background on the "walk score" and why that number matters. Hawkeye fans can be proud that Iowa City barely edged out sustainability champion Dubuque for having the most amenities within walking distance of its residents.

First, a bit about the Walk Score methodology:

Walk Score measures how easy it is to live a car-lite lifestyle-not how pretty the area is for walking.

Walk Score uses a patent-pending system to measure the walkability of an address. The Walk Score algorithm awards points based on the distance to amenities in each category. Amenities within .25 miles receive maximum points and no points are awarded for amenities further than one mile.

Each address or community receives a "walk score" between 1 and 100. Here's what the scores represent:

90-100 Walker's Paradise - Daily errands do not require a car.

70-89 Very Walkable - Most errands can be accomplished on foot.

50-69 Somewhat Walkable - Some amenities within walking distance.

25-49 Car-Dependent - A few amenities within walking distance.

0-24 Car-Dependent - Almost all errands require a car.

Walkable neighborhoods improve property values and are better for the environment and residents' health.

You can type in your own address here to get your home's walk score. At the left side of the screen, you can view lists of restaurants, coffee shops, grocery stores, other shops, schools, parks, etc. within a mile of your address. The algorithm seems to work well. I could only think of a few amenities within walking distance of my house that were left off these lists.

This page provides walk scores for the 24 largest cities in Iowa. Walk Score lists them alphabetically, but I have grouped them in descending order by walk score.

City                      Walk Score           Population

Iowa City              53                           67,574

Dubuque               52                           57,780

Marshalltown          51                           27,420

Des Moines            50                           203,107

Muscatine              48                           22,884

Ames                    47                           58,343

Davenport             47                           99,657

Clinton                  47                           26,877

Fort Dodge            46                           25,066

Mason City            46                           28,015

Sioux City             46                           82,615

Coralville              45                           18,774

Ottumwa               45                           24,715

West Des Moines    45                           56,571

Cedar Rapids         43                           125,681

Burlington              43                           25,603

Council Bluffs         43                           62,061

Bettendorf             42                           33,198

Cedar Falls             42                           39,076

Urbandale              41                           39,443

Waterloo                41                           68,260

Ankeny                  39                           45,119

Marion                   37                           34,622

Johnston                28                           17,164

A few things stand out. Even the highest-scoring Iowa cities are far behind the most walkable cities nationwide. Cambridge (MA), New York City, Jersey City, San Francisco, and Berkley all have walk scores in the 80s. Several midwestern cities score higher than anywhere in Iowa. For instance, Chicago has a walk score of 74, Minneapolis scores 69, and Milwaukee scores 60.

Most of the Iowa cities score close to or slightly higher than the national average walk score of 43. Sprawling, rapidly growing suburban areas are the most car-dependent; Johnston and Ankeny are suburbs of Des Moines, while Marion is a suburb of Cedar Rapids. For some reason, Omaha, Nebraska has a walk score of 50, significantly higher than that of Council Bluffs just over the Missouri River.

Within each city, some neighborhoods are closer to far more amenities than others. For instance, in Iowa City the 52242 zip code area has a walk score of 68, the 52245 zip code area has a walk score of 51, and the 52246 zip code area has a walk score of just 42, down with the lower-ranking Iowa cities. Similarly, 23% of Dubuque residents have a Walk Score of 70 or above, but nearly half of Dubuque residents "live in car-dependent neighborhoods."

I have to put in a word for Windsor Heights, an inner-ring suburb of Des Moines which wasn't ranked because its population (just under 5,000) is too small. I suspect it would have a score comparable to the most walkable Iowa cities. My Windsor Heights address has a walk score over 50, and many streets in the compact suburb would probably score at least that high.

Any relevant thoughts are welcome in this thread.

  • 72!

    In my neighborhood on the near west side of Iowa City. (My four block commute to work helps my score a lot I suspect.) I spent several months with no car a few years back. The apartment's laundry was sub-optimal but I managed. My only real problem was large bulky grocery items (specifically: kitty litter)

    We've got several fast food chains within three or four blocks but some won't let you walk or bike through a drive up. Go figure.

    • when I lived in larger cities

      without a car, I took a cab if I bought something too heavy to carry home on foot or by the bus. An occasional cab is a lot cheaper than car ownership. Now some cities have that zipcar system, where you can rent a car for a few hours, or a day or two, at a very reasonable rate.

    • Our car-free household in Boston uses mail order

      for heavy or bulky items like kitty litter, cat food, and paper towels, toilet paper, and napkins (Petco.com and Seventh Generation, respectively).

      The real stumbling block for me is beer. I always stock up when we get a Zipcar but I don't want to have too much of it around because it goes bad after a while. Sometimes I wonder if people would pay to have retail quantities of beer and soda delivered.

      I remember watching old movies set in New York City where people would call up a liquor store mid-party to have more libations delivered so as to keep the fun going.

      Of course before the advent of the automobile lots of everyday things were delivered door-to-door: ice, coal, dairy, meat. A fair amount of what we now throw away as trash was picked up for commercial recycling then as well. Mobile knife sharpeners would set up in the street.

      Of course this set-up chains one parent to the home all day...

  • my no car neighborhood

    was on the north side of Iowa City and scored a Manhattanesque 89.

    The 52242 ZIP code is the UI campus.

  • I was feeling bad...

    about my score of a measly 41 until a friend in a Chicago suburb posted that his house got a 3.  I can't even imagine what that must look like...

    • Urbandale is so variable

      I tried a few addresses in older Urbandale neighborhoods (between 72nd and 86th St) and got walk scores in the 50s and 60s. If you go way out to sprawlville Urbandale (west of I-80/I-35, around Douglas Parkway), you can easily find single-digit walk scores.

      • We're in an older section of Johnston

        now, but Johnston never had a strong town center so many areas are still not very walkable, unfortunately.

        I was a blog newbie when I chose my screen name, knowing at the time we'd be moving but don't have much choice now! 🙂

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