Fredericton Walkability Maps

1 10 2014

It’s warm enough to walk – but to where?

Just in time for spring, a fortnight ago the good people at Walk Score came up with another neat new way to illustrate how pedestrian-friendly your city may be: with ChoiceMaps, not only can you figure out if you have a particular amenity like a grocery or restaurant nearby, but how many of them. You can choose what feature you’re considering – cafe, supermarket, etc – and how far you’re willing to walk – five minutes, 10, etc.

choice-maps

Source: ChoiceMaps Washington DC

I think it’s an under-recognised part of what makes a neighbourhood, or a city, a good place to live. It’s easy to say that “there’s anything you could ever need” because there is a supermarket, or restaurant etc nearby, – there might even be a fantastically good supermarket or restaurant – but what really makes a community vibrant is having many good supermarkets and restaurants to choose just outside your door. (Otherwise, you might as well be deployed on a camp in Afghanistan: great food, and great sights, but oh so repetitive.)

It’s an important distinction: Walk Score simply measures how close amenities like cafés and groceries are – even if it’s only one – whereas ChoiceMaps reflects the variety and options within walking distance. For the most part, Walk Scores around Fredericton neighbourhoods seem to match well with how they actually feel when you’re on foot around town. The city as a whole is, unsurprisingly, the most “car-dependent” capital in Canada, at 39/100. (National average is 59.)

Walk-Score-overall-Fredericton

But within that overall score, there are some oddities from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. For example, Hanwell Rd at Waggoners Ln, right on the Crosstown trail and walkable to the Superstore and Downtown, scores a low “car-dependent” 37; but 2.5km up the hill at Bishop Dr, past the highway, it’s actually a “somewhat walkable” 55.

Alas, ChoiceMaps is proprietary info for paying subscribers only, so you won’t find data for Fredericton without signing up (though you can sample New York City and Washington DC for free). But with some quick Google Mapping and Photoshopping, I think you can come up with an easy approximation!

First, create a map containing all the amenities you’re looking for: Google’s Maps Engine Lite makes it easy to integrate search results for “restaurant”, “cafe”, “grocery”, “market”, “convenience” store etc onto maps and lay them out. After searching (including “gas stations”, which are often convenience stores too), you’ve got a map of Fredericton essentials!

Fredericton-essentials

Blue = restaurants and cafés – those essential “third-spaces” for life outside home and work.
Green = places to buy life’s essentials like groceries, whether a supermarket or a mini-grocer’s.
Red = gas stations, for those emergency late-night supply runs.

Then, knowing that the average person walks 5km/h, drawing a 400m radius around each point will tell you the area where people live that’s within 5 minutes walking distance. With Photoshop, by setting each circle to be 50% transparent, you can see the effect as each overlaps: the colour gets darker, in relation to how many amenities are in the area. And voilà: ChoiceMaps on the cheap! You can see how much of town has access to restaurants and food stores within a 5-minute walk – and how many:

essentials-5-minutes1

Simply double the radius size to illustrate what parts of Fredericton are (at least theoretically) within a 10-minute walking distance of those life essentials:

essentials-10-minutes1

With some easy map and Photoshop work, you can see how it breaks down by amenity type:

Fredericton within a 5-minute walk to a restaurant or café
essentials-5-minutes-restaurant1

Fredericton within a 10-minute walk to a restaurant or café
essentials-10-minutes-restaurant1

Fredericton within a 5-minute walk to a grocery (green) or gas station (red)
essentials-5-minutes-food1

Fredericton within a 10-minute walk to a grocery (green) or gas station (red)
essentials-10-minutes-food1

A quick glance at the maps show some limitations: many amenities don’t seem to get picked up on these particular Google Map searches yet. Missing are some restaurants like Thai Spice on the Northside, or small grocers that don’t have “grocery” or “convenience” in their name, like the Goody Shop near UNB campus. And of course, the twists and turns of Fredericton’s street network don’t always a convenient 400m straight walking path to where you’re going. But they do seem to match some common sense observations:

  • Downtown, the West Plat and the Town Plat are flush with an excellent variety of choice
  • the Northside “Downtown” strip of Main and Union St aren’t bad either, even with some points missing from the Google searches
  • “traditional” neighbourhoods with simple grid streets (as opposed to crescents and loops) and smaller yards fit more variety than suburbs
  • outside of Downtown, restaurants tend to wall off within malls like the Regent or Brookside; neighbourhood diners right on the street (like the Sunshine, or Joe’s) are rare
  • outside of Downtown, the only option within walking distance for groceries in any neighbourhood is actually the local gas station
  • most neighbourhoods are otherwise quite poor not just for choice, but for any amenities whatsoever within walking distance
  • in Fredericton’s suburbs, amenities are sometimes within a reasonable walking distance, but the design of highways or major roads cut them off

Most interesting of all, you can see that even though there’s a lot of new construction going on around town, none of it is addressing these gaps in amenities in Fredericton’s neighborhoods. Even though some suburban areas are building more apartment buildings and townhouses to increase density, they aren’t adding amenities like corner stores and cafes: they’re not becoming any more vibrant or pedestrian-friendly than the rest of the suburbs. If anything, they’re now going to get more jammed with traffic, as new residents must drive to more choice-filled, better-equipped areas.

Of course, this is all still just a data-based Internet abstraction of reality; just like their WalkScore (a “very walkable” 75!), the Prospect St strip and Corbett Centre power centre of gas stations and restaurants appear to do very well on this map. But it helps to illustrate an often-overlooked part of what makes city living and urban planning better: mix and variety is the spice of life!

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