Atlantic Cities

Walk Score Offers Apartment Searches Based on Commuting Time

The folks at Walk Score, the website that assigns “walkability” scores to specific neighborhoods and regions, unveiled a slick new product this week that allows users to type in the address of their workplace and search for apartments based on an estimated commuting time. Walk Score Apartment Search draws in data feeds from the site's existing walking metrics, plus driving and cycling times courtesy proprietary mapping data developed through OpenStreetMap.org, and information from the 209 U.S. transit systems that currently make their data available to the public. (Check out Walkscore sister site Citygoround.org's Wall of Shame to see if your transit agency is one of the 640 remaining in the U.S. that are still not offering open data). It then pairs those feeds with Craigslist apartment listings to generate a map of available properties, each with their own commute estimates.

To test it out, we plugged in the address of The Atlantic's headquarters here in Washington, D.C. This proved to be depressing, mainly because rent in the District of Columbia is too damn high. A one bedroom apartment that's only 19 minutes from the office by transit or 25 minutes walking sounds great until you notice it costs $2400 a month.

I'm also not sure how reliable some of the mass transit estimates really are, though considering those numbers are based on data from transit agencies (in this case, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority), it's hard to fault Walk Score alone for that. An apartment listed a block from where I currently live is given a mass transit commute estimate of 26 minutes, but that's an absolute best-case scenario in my experience: it usually takes me about 10 minutes longer than that, if not a little more, to make that trip either by bus or Metro. Matt Lerner, Walk Score's chief technology officer, says the times are calculated to include an average of 3 mph for any walking portions of a commute, plus transit wait times pegged to half the frequency of given routes. But it obviously can't take into account rush hour traffic backups on any given day.

Still, there's a lot to like about this new tool, which takes Walk Score's somewhat academic rating system and at last gives it a highly practical application. The ability to narrow results by placing a cap on how long of a commute you're willing deal with is awfully useful, especially for younger workers who are perhaps contemplating accepting a job in a new city they don't know very well. And those are exactly the types of users Lerner says Walk Score has in mind. "When you ask people what's most important to them in a neighborhood, commuting, safety, and schools are the top three. And for younger people who don't have kids, schools and safety are less important, so it's just commute," Lerner says.

Sommer Mathis is editor of The Atlantic Cities. Previously she spent five years editing and reporting on the D.C. metro area at DCist.com and TBD.com. All posts »

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