The greatest thing about living in Melbourne city was that anything I needed was within easy reach. I could access everywhere by foot or a short tram ride at most, and having a car was unnecessary. In fact, I used a car so infrequently that it took me six years to gain enough driving practice (120 hours) to get my driver’s license. I have gotten so used to the convenience of a walkable lifestyle that I had to travel half way across the globe to realize how much I miss it. That’s not to say that Seattle is not a walkable city, but where I currently live, on the hills of Redmond, it is most certainly far from walkable.
A couple of the articles we recently read mentioned the site “Walk Score” which rates the walkability of different cities and neighborhoods. Out of curiosity I looked up my address on the site and, unsurprisingly, it returned an appalling walk score of 23 out of 100. The property was identified as “Car dependent”, meaning that “almost all errands require a car”. The walk score for Redmond overall was only slightly better at 44, which is still considered “car dependent” compared with the “very walkable” Seattle at a score of 74. Looking at the walkability map on the site (see map bellow) confirmed my gut feeling that neighborhoods further from town centers in the region score much lower than neighborhoods within Seattle and around the retail cores.
It seems to me that there is an obvious correlation between the density of the neighborhood and its walkability. Our 3,800SF rented mansion sits on a 13,200SF lot, compared with the Seattle median home size of 1,520SF with an average lot size of 5,000SF. It’s simple, larger houses, on larger lots, means fewer households per neighborhood. This in turns makes it difficult to reach the density required to provide the kind services which would make the neighborhood more walkable, like a corner grocery shop or a local café. This low density also makes it difficult to justify conveniently located, frequent public transport. We do have a bus stop within 15 minutes’ walk of our house, however, the bus comes only once an hour and takes 20 minutes to get to downtown Redmond and 45 min to Bellevue. In the few times I caught this bus, there were on average three other passengers on the bus. So I can certainly understand why it would not make sense to increase the frequency of the service. But it is still frustrating when a ten minutes car ride takes an hour. And if a person like me who is accustomed to use public transport is finding it increasingly cumbersome, how can we hope to encourage more residents to reduce their car usage?
If it was up to me, the simple solution would be to just live in a higher density urban environment like Fremont or Queen Anne. Unfortunately I didn’t have much say in choosing my current address. I live with my partner and four close friends who all work for Microsoft and often carpool the short commute to work. For the majority of our household, our location is convenient, and the large house means we don’t get in each other’s way, while still being together. But from what I’ve seen, we are not the average household in our neighborhood. This makes me wonder how the average sized 2.3 person household in Redmond can justify this kind of density. As we move towards a higher awareness of the importance of sustainability, it would be interesting to see how living in this “car dependent” family neighborhood would inform the sustainable values of the next generation.