News / Calgary

Calgary's walkability comes down to neighbourhood design: researcher

Not all neighborhoods score the same on walkability ratings

Metro File

Where can you walk from your home to get a carton of milk? Whether you live in Auburn Bay or the Beltline your answer is probably pretty different.

Step Forward, the city's latest strategic plan, gives recommendations on how to turn the city from a car-dependent metropolis to a walkable urban centre. And according to a group of University of Calgary researchers the culprits behind walkability lie in the type of neighbourhood you live in.

Bev Sandalack, a researcher with Urban Lab at the University, said her group has been studying walkability in the City of Calgary for seven years. They have broken down the city in terms of three different neighbourhood types: grid, mid-century design and curvilinear neighbourhoods.

"The grid neighbourhoods, there's an average of 3.68 square kilometres that somebody living in that neighbourhood has access to, in a curvilinear, it's about half that," said Sandalack. "That's really quite significant that there's that difference."

Sandalack also said it's not just about accessible distance for pedestrians, but also the quality of the walk. Looking at the neighbourhoods again and scoring the walk quality the scores were similar, higher for grids and lower for curvilinear.

In 2013, Urban Labs counted roughly 45 grid neighbourhoods, 55 mid-century designs and 75 curvilinear builds. All of which Coun. Druh Farrell said would take an astronomical, almost impossible, amount of money to retrofit.

Farrell said it's been a city goal to get away from the curvilinear neighbourhoods, which encourage driving instead of walking.

"It is a stated goal, and we've done an abysmal job – up until very recently," said Farrell. "We've seen a shift in the last couple of years to more grid-like structure, so more connected neighbourhoods…a huge part our city is new and we haven't even been requiring sidewalks on both sides."

Even Eau Claire, a community full of pedestrians and cyclists, has inconsistent sidewalk coverage, according to Farrell.

The Complete Streets policy, which came into play Mar. 31, 2015, now mandates certain design practices for developers.

In the city's report, Calgary ranks 18 out of 20 cities with a walkability score of 47.9 out of 100, a score generated by Walk Score. A mark that slides Calgary just into the car-dependent part of the scale.

But the folks at Urban Lab have developed walkability scores focusing on a neighbourhood rather than the city as a whole. To that end, Sandalack said the city's Walk Scores aren't particularly accurate.

"It doesn't account for things like rivers, or Glenmore Reservoir, or Deerfoot or Crowchild, or something that's a real barrier," Sandalack said.