Researchers are harnessing an array of high-tech tools – from satellites to computer mapping software – to promote that lowest of tech transport options: Your feet. New software can help users compute an “eco-walkability” score that indicates how friendly an area is to foot travel.

“The concept of walkability conveys how conducive the built environment is to walking,” Ko Ko Lwin and Yuji Murayama of the University of Tsukuba in Japan write in Computers, Environment and Urban Systems. One Walk Score web site, for example, uses Google Maps to identify stores, restaurants, bars, parks and other amenities within walking distance of any address a user enters. Computing a walkability score, however, is a complex task, and Lwin and Murayama decided to try a new method – and then test it in Tsukuba, a university city of about 200,000.

Their method used satellite data to create maps of green spaces, which they then fused with information about things like road networks, public facility locations and building footprints. Software then allowed users to calculate an Eco-friendly Walk Score by entering their home address and a search radius. Other tools were aimed at allowing planners to evaluate the greenness of spaces according to planning zone (such as a city block), and enabling home buyers to scope out potential neighborhoods. Users could even compute walk scores for multistop trips – such as trip that includes both the grocery store and the library.

The Walk Score tool got good reviews from Tsukuba residents asked to test it. “Real estate agents found the ability to show neighborhood environmental quality to potential home buyers in addition to surrounding public facilities a highly valuable resource,” the authors report. Some students, meanwhile, suggested “that the Eco-friendly Walk Score Calculator would be handy to have as an application on their smart phones or Netbook Computers in order to find the greenest route while they walk or exercise.”

“Although analysis of route paths has been widely used” in computer mapping tools, “the integration of green factors with the analysis of the route path is still lacking,” the authors note. They hope their tool “will help local city planners and policy-makers to build sustainable eco-cities to improve the mental and physical health of their residents in various parts of the world.” David Malakoff | June 26, 2011

Source: Lwin, K., & Murayama, Y. (2011). Modelling of urban green space walkability: Eco-friendly walk score calculator. Computers, Environment and Urban Systems DOI: 10.1016/j.compenvurbsys.2011.05.002

Image © Feng Yu |