With prospective real estate buyers increasingly weighinga neighborhood’s walkability ranking when making decisions, it seems several towns in Southwestern Connecticut have a bit of work to do to make their communities more pedestrian-friendly.
Overall, 18 of the 31 towns in our area earned a score of less than 50 on walkscore.com, indicating that the communities require a car for just about every errand.
“The way we describe it is that if there’s a score of 50 or less, then most errands require a car,” said Walk Score CEO Josh Herst. “From 50 to 69, we consider somewhat walkable and from 70 to 89, we call ‘very walkable,’ meaning that most errands can be accomplished on foot.”
The score is based on an algorithm that assesses the distance between key points, in relation to population density, creating a score that reflects how easy it is for residents to get around the town on foot for trips to the coffee shop, grocery store or movie theater.
“In order to calculate those scores, we literally create a grid across the entire shape of the city or neighborhood and calculate the score of every point, roughly 500 feet apart and then weigh the walk score of each of those point by population density, so it reflects where people live,” Herst said.
Weston was at the very bottom of that list, earning a 3. Monroe, Easton and Oxford also earned scores less than 10, which means residents and visitors in those towns need a car to accomplish just about any errand.
In total, five towns landed in the “very walkable zone,” while another seven in the area were deemed “somewhat walkable.” But the majority of towns in Southwestern Connecticut are not very walkable at all, according to Herst’s company; in total, 18 towns and cities earned scores less than 50.
Then there’s the small town of Seymour, where antique shops lace the streets that hug the corners of the Naugatuck River, is a “walker’s paradise,” thanks to a compact downtown equipped with wide sidewalks. It was the only town in all of Southwestern Connecticut to earn a score greater than 90, earning the distinction of a “walker’s paradise.”
“I walk around the downtown area pretty often,” said Seymour’s First Selectman Kurt Miller.
“I like the downtown area, because it’s nice and compact. We have the wide sidewalks, which certainly makes it easy to get around to a lot of the shops,” Miller said, adding that the town is currently applying for grants to improve the town’s sidewalks and add curb cuts to provide better access to people with disabilities.
While Seymour holds the designation of most walkable town in Southwestern Connecticut, it is followed by New Milford with a score of 88 and Fairfield and New Canaan, both with scores of 85. Bridgeport comes in at No. 7 with a score of 65.2, while Stamford sits at No. 10 with a score of 59.1, followed by Greenwich at No. 11 with a score of 57. Danbury is No. 14, with a score of 46.9.
Walkability is a huge factor in residents’ quality of life, said Alyssa Israel, co-founder of the Fairfield Bike Walk Coalition, which works to make the town of Fairfield safer and more accessible for pedestrians and cyclists.
“It brings higher home values and greater health,” she said.
And research shows that walkability is a big draw for prospective residents. According to a recent survey published by the National Association of Realtors, 45 percent of Americans feel it is a high or extremely high priority for their neighborhoods to provide convenient alternatives to driving. In addition, the survey showed that 55 percent of respondents would forgo a larger yard in order to live within walking distance of schools, stores and restaurants.
“There’s a changing housing preference among millennials in particular,” Herst said. “It’s very clear that Gen Y or the Millennial Generation is largely preferring downtown living, and often renting apartments with access to transit and in walkable locations.”
But here in Southwestern Connecticut, many of the communities are largely suburban, which naturally gives way to more spread out neighborhoods than in urban centers. But even these more suburban areas have room for walkability.
“In Greenwich, it depends on where you go,” said Nick Catino, a resident of Greenwich’s Pemberwick community. “Of course, Greenwich Avenue is fine, but as far as around here, there are no sidewalks.”
After moving to Greenwich from Stamford’s Cove area a few months ago, Catino said he was quickly seen a difference in walkability. While he was able to quickly walk his children to the beach or the park in the Cove, or pass down the neighborhood’s main artery – Seaside Avenue – fully protected by sidewalks, Greenwich has provided a different experience.
“There’s a CVS down the street from my house, so I can walk there, and there’s a deli not too far away, but I have to hop in the car mostly,” he said. “And I notice that when you go for a walk, people drive very fast. I have a one-year-old and we go for walks, and there are cars just speeding right by us.”
A common issue for people using means other than cars to get around is the fact that many drivers drive fast while others don’t understand the idea of sharing the road.
“It can be scary to be on a bicycle in a high-traffic area, where drivers are not used to it,” said Isreal. “We have a big learning curve in Connecticut, and I see drivers not understanding bicycles and bicycles not following the rules of the road, which can be dangerous.”
Increasing walkability – and bicycle access – is no small task. Israel’s coalition has been working for three years to boost ease and access in Fairfield. In that time they have had some promising results, like a new bike path, but there’s still plenty that needs to be done.
“I know that when you look up Fairfield’s walkability score card, Fairfield ranks really high among towns in Southwestern Connecticut,” said Israel. “That said, I think we definitely have a long way to go to make it the greatest walkable and bikeable town.”