Everyone has different preferences and priorities when it comes to house hunting. Some people look for homes in quiet, rural areas with plenty of space. Others prefer more densely populated neighborhoods where the most important amenities are within walking distance.
Knowing whether or not a neighborhood is truly walkable can be difficult, though. Not all suburban communities are easy to navigate on foot, and simply having schools or restaurants within a mile isn’t the best indicator of walkability. To discover how walkable your prospective neighborhood is, you should be prepared to do some careful research and exploration.
Here are six tips for finding out if your new neighborhood is walkable:
1. Check out local ratings.
No one knows a neighborhood better than those who live there. If you’re considering moving to a certain location, you should always check out the local reviews and ratings first. Trulia is a great resource for getting local perspectives on an area. On the “What Locals Say” section, you can see the percentage of locals who agree that the neighborhood is walkable to restaurants or grocery stores and the percentage who believe a car is needed to live in the area.
If the neighborhood has a community Facebook group, you could write a post asking locals for their thoughts on the area’s walkability. Nextdoor can be a helpful source of information, too. What’s most important is that you hear directly from people who have lived in the area for a while. Sometimes, there are specific benefits or drawbacks to living in a community that an outsider would never be aware of.
2. Look at the public transportation.
Most walkable neighborhoods have some form of public transportation. In a highly walkable area, your basic amenities like grocery stores and schools are within walking range, and public transportation can assist with your commute or other travel needs.
If you have a car, you may not need to worry about the public transportation system in the area. If you don’t have a car, though, public transit may be your lifeline. Check out the maps and scheduling for the buses or trains in the city to get an idea of how convenient and efficient the system is. Consider how long it would take you to get to work if you relied on public transportation.
This is another topic on which the locals in the area are the experts. Look for reviews online of the community’s public transportation, or ask a community forum or Facebook group for their input.
3. Identify a center.
Almost all walkable neighborhoods have some type of central gathering point. This might be a full downtown or a main street in a larger community, or it could be a public park or a shopping center. This main hub encourages people to walk around and congregate.
You can also evaluate whether the buildings near the neighborhood center were designed for pedestrians or for drivers. Buildings located close to the street with parking in the back are more pedestrian-friendly, but buildings with large parking lots in front weren’t designed with walkability in mind.
4. Use Google Street View.
Checking out a neighborhood in-person is the best way to understand its walkability. However, if you’re moving from far away, you might not be able to do this. Fortunately, Google Street View can provide a very realistic overview of the area.
Click on various areas in the neighborhood on the Google Street View map. Look for sidewalks and other pedestrian-friendly structures, and see if there are any other pedestrians on the road in the image. You can also use Google Maps and Google Street View to take a virtual walk from your prospective home to the local park, grocery store, library, or other locations. Although this isn’t a perfect representation of what actually walking the route is like, it can give you a good idea of how accessible the neighborhood is for pedestrians.
5. Visit in-person at different times of day.
If you are able to explore the area in-person, try to visit at different times of day. Highly walkable neighborhoods should be walkable almost all of the time. You might not want to walk around in the middle of the night even in the safest neighborhoods, but if possible, check out the community early in the morning, in the mid-afternoon, and in the evening.
Try walking various routes during commuting hours to see if the increased vehicle traffic makes you feel unsafe as a pedestrian. See if the stores or restaurants you’re most interested in are open in the evening or if they close early. Also, take note of the lighting after dark. In the winter, it’s especially important that streets are well-lit for pedestrians.
6. Consider street and neighborhood design.
Distance is not the only consideration in evaluating whether a neighborhood is walkable. Not only should your destinations be within a reasonable walking range, but getting there also should feel safe and comfortable.
Sidewalks are one of the most important features of a walkable community. If you have to walk on the shoulder of the road, you probably won’t feel safe as you try to navigate your neighborhood. The sidewalks should be wide and clear throughout the area. In areas that experience winter weather, the sidewalks should be shoveled and salted regularly to reduce the risk of slipping.
Look for crosswalks and pedestrian signals, too. Crossing a busy street without any infrastructure to assist you is dangerous, and it’s a sign that the area isn’t very pedestrian-friendly. There should be plenty of street lights as well so that pedestrians can see and be seen.
Walkable neighborhoods are great for families and individuals alike. You can see more of your community and get to know your neighbors when you spend more time walking around the area, and you can increase your daily activity by walking instead of driving. If walkability is a major priority in your home search, you should do more than look at a map to see how far away your destinations are. Carefully scope out the neighborhood online or in-person, be on the lookout for signs of pedestrian-friendly infrastructure, and ask locals for their opinions. This will ensure that you have a realistic expectation for walkability in the neighborhood and that you feel safe and comfortable navigating the area on foot.
Michael Carr is the Co-Founder & COO of BrandFace, LLC. He is also a real estate branding expert and international bestselling author. As America’s Top Selling Real Estate Auctioneer, he has sold billions of dollars in commercial and residential properties.