One of the best things about living in New York City is that I can breezily walk by four lanes of sardine-packed cars aggressively inching towards a one-lane merge and barely notice their plight. Luckily, I don't need a car to get where I'm going since I live in the second most walkable city in the U.S., according to rankings recently released by a web site called WalkScore.
Of the 40 largest U.S. cities, San Francisco took top honors, and Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia rounded out the top five. If you live in Jacksonville or Nashville, don't trade in your keys just yet--though even in the most car-dependent cities, the site suggests some pockets that are easily trafficked by foot. On WalkScore you can type in your own address to find out about your neighborhood's walkability. Better than the scores are the color-coded maps that highlight pedestrian hot spots and dead zones at the city scale.
It's hard to think of any downsides to walking more--you're pumping out less carbon dioxide and other pollutants, getting exercise, supporting local businesses, and interacting with your community all in one shot. No matter what else I do in my life, my carbon footprint falls far below the average because I don't drive. I think of it as environmental virtue by default.
By default, I say, because there are those times that, like a dieter dreaming of chocolate cake, I'm tempted by what I can't have. In July's searing heat, I imagine cruising to the grocery store. Or when it's dead winter and a biting wind is fighting my every step while I trudge uphill towards my boyfriend's apartment--yeah, some wheels would be nice. The hills, anyhow, must not be factored because somehow San Francisco beat out New York. My hunch was confirmed by an analysis of the rankings by The Wall Street Journal's "Numbers Guy." See his post or WalkScore's methodology for other limitations of this list , which was mostly guided by the proximity of "amenities." The rankings don't account for public transit options, climate or neighborhood safety either.
Despite this, WalkScore seems to be a useful tool if you're planning a move to an unfamiliar city. In few other places besides New York can you really get away with a car-free existence, but this site might help you to use your foot power more often than not.