Sunday, December 8, 2013

Using Walk Score's travel time maps

by Michelle Stenzel

You've probably heard about Walk Score, a website that aims to provide information to help people determine how walkable a neighborhood is while making decisions about where to live. While the Walk Score website used to only provide measures of walkability, in the last few years, Transit and Bike scores have been added as well.

As you may imagine, Lincoln Park as a whole neighborhood does well on all these measures. The zip code of 60614 currently merits a Walk Score of 83, Bike Score of 84, and Transit Score of 79, which is a strong showing. For comparison, Chicago as a whole receives a Walk Score of 75, Bike Score of 62, and Transit Score of 65. One can quibble about the methodology being limited. For example, the only factor that is considered for walkability is the number of amenities within close walking distance, while disregarding other hard-to-quantify factors like how pleasant, safe, direct and inviting the routes are. 

However, today I simply wanted to share an interesting feature that I saw on the Walk Score website. They have added interactive Travel Time maps that you can use to see how far you can get in a certain time period walking, biking or taking transit. You set the time period for anything from 10 minutes to 60 minutes, then choose the mode of travel. Voila! The map shows you how far you can go.

I found it fun to experiment to see how far I can bike in various time periods. Here's the map of how far you can get by bike in 10 minutes, from the east side of Oz Park:
(Please note that the window for the map on the website is not resizable, so parts of the edges of all these maps are cut annoyingly cut off.) 

Looking at the map above, you can see that it's only a 10-minute bike ride to get all the way from the Oz Park area to Clark and Belmont on the north, and Halsted/Division or Rush/Division on the south. That's only 10 minutes' ride to all the great eateries and shops on Belmont, or to the new Target on Division, or to see the holiday decorations at Butch McGuire's! That's door to door, with no parking hassles, no feeding the meter, no expensive cab ride. The distance covered is 1.5 miles, so the map is set to assume about a 10 mph rate of pedaling, while stopping for all red lights. For those who aren't familiar, 10 mph is a relaxed, unhurried rate, typical of people riding upright bikes in a leisurely manner. So this is not a racing, sweaty speed.

Ten minutes by bike is really short. If you add just 10 more minutes of relaxed pedaling time, here's how far you'd get in 20 minutes:
Now you've got a lot more options for destinations. To the north, all of Lakeview is within reach, including the great Southport Corridor as well as the charms and festivals in Roscoe Village on Roscoe Street west of Damen. To the west, you can reach the Milwaukee Avenue corridor from Bucktown down through Wicker Park to the fantastic Division/Damen area. Directly south, you can reach all of Streeterville, River North, and half of the Loop. This is in a relatively short 20-minute span, during which you're also seeing sights, getting fresh air, and a little light exercise as well. That just can't be beat.

Just for comparison, here's how far you'd get in a 20-minute transit ride:
You may notice that the transit reach is actually shorter, and the scope of the destinations is more limited. On transit, you barely reach Irving Park Road nor get into the Loop within 20 minutes. Most of Bucktown and the entire Milwaukee Avenue corridor to the southeast is out of the question via transit. This is of course because time spent walking to the transit stop and waiting for the bus or L train is factored in, and then you're limited to where the route takes you. That's the beauty of bicycling: No walking far, no waiting, and no limit on where a bike can take you. 

Twenty minutes or three miles is about the longest I personally ever tackle via bike for day-to-day commuting, running errands, shopping, or going to dinner. Call me a wimp, but that's my limit most of the time. And anyway, city living allows a huge range of choices for services and entertainment within three miles. 

However, on weekends, when there's more time to explore, I'll go longer than that, and an additional 10 minutes of biking really extends the reach. Here's the map for 30-minute bike rides from the Oz Park area. I had to split it in two:

With a total of 30 minutes of riding, you can now reach the important destinations of Andersonville, Lincoln Square, Logan Square, Ukrainian Village, Greektown and Chinatown. (Yes, this is all highly subjective. Chime in with your own picks on "important destinations" in the Comments!)

The great thing is that most of this 30-minute map is within the current scope of Divvy bike share stations, so if you have a Divvy membership, you can just swipe your fob, grab a bike, ride to your destination, slam the Divvy carefully roll the Divvy into an empty dock, and not even worry about finding a bike rack! Seriously, can this get any more convenient? 

Well, I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge that although I have enough experience and confidence riding bikes to find safe routes to most of these place (often using a combination of streets with bike lanes as well as quiet side streets, as I explained in this post), there's still a very long way to go before we have a network of safe routes that "interested but concerned" citizens will be comfortable riding on. But it will happen, over time. I'll write soon on the progress made in our area so far, and what we can look forward to in the near future.

In the mean time, play around with the Walk Score Travel Time map; it's kind of addictive.

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