What makes a neighborhood walkable? Having amenities within walking distance — like schools, stores parks or transit options less than a mile away. Living on an interconnected street grid as opposed to a street layout with dead-end cul-de-sacs helps, too.
But a Walk Score helps more than just your miles-traveled footprint. It’s an economic development determination factor.
I actually was clued to the idea from the office of Tracy City Manager Leon Churchill.
The score shows up on real estate websites like Zillow — where it is a factor that helps determine the estimated value of your home — and is sandwiched between tax history of a property and local schools. The score — high or low — is a good determination of an area’s sprawl or compactness. It realistically quantifies if you have a lot of choices close to you or have to travel far and wide to get what you want.
The value of how much time you spend in your car is an economic factor that not only affects you, but the health and economic vitality of the city you live in.
It might not seem like a big deal in small standalone towns in the Central Valley like Tracy, but this is actually where it means the most.
The San Joaquin Valley is the breadbasket for the country. The more we can conserve our outlying agricultural land, the more food will be available — and affordable — for the nation. That means we need to develop our infill land before we sprawl outward.
Besides the financial hit, we should care about the quality of what we take into our lungs. The San Joaquin Valley also has a huge problem with air quality. As residents, we get penalized every year for exceeding the minimum air quality requirements set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
Our children are more likely to get asthma, as their young lungs more susceptible to damage from air pollution. According to the EPA, residents in the San Joaquin Valley are four times more likely to die from air pollution than driving a car. And since breathing air is something we all do, it’s everyone’s problem.
Whether you believe in climate change or not, or whether you can afford to drive or not, the bottom line is if you live in the Central Valley, your lungs are taking in more particulates than are good for you. To make things better, we need to get out of our cars more.
So having a good Walk Score in Tracy would be good for all of us.
But Tracy has a problem bringing every residents’ Walk Score down: It doesn’t have an open-source transit monitoring system, despite my constant urging. As a result, our Tracer bus system doesn’t show up in the algorithms that determine every Tracy resident’s Walk Score — only the regional RTD system does.
It’s an information black hole that officials do not think is important enough to fill.
But it matters.
My Walk Score — as measured by www.walkscore.com — at home is only 54 out of 100 despite being less than a half-mile from a grocery store, a school and several restaurants, and less than a quarter-mile from a park. That seemingly low score is because missing from the calculation, because of Tracy’s lack of open-source information, are two bus routes and three bus stops within walking distance.
The neighborhood I work in, in Stockton, has a Walk Score of 70, a little economic engine of a street that includes several amenities within one city block, near several bus routes.
For those of you who live in Mountain House — who have to drive to go anywhere or do anything — your Walk Score is only an 11, which speaks volumes to the amount of time you spend in your car.
The point is that we would all be better off if we spent less time in our car and more time walking, using transit or riding a bike. It is better for our bottom line, our waistline and every breath we take.
For a change: Calculate your Walk Score. Visit www.walkscore.com
To make a difference: Walk around your neighborhood and visit a business within walking distance — slow down and enjoy the fact that you are getting exercise and an errand done at the same time.
To make a stand: Be a voice for change and ask city of Tracy officials to provide open-source transit information. We need transparency to make a regional transportation system work. Tracy deserves it.
• Christina D.B. Frankel has lived in Tracy for more than 20 years and is an architect and mother of three. Her column, Living Green, runs every so often in the Tracy Press. Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, or she can be reached directly at