One of the things that’s so great about Belmont, of course, is its proximity to…well…just about everything. We’ve got some great shopping districts with shops, restaurants, Starbucks and, as we on Town Meeting know — BANKS! Step back and we are all of seven miles to downtown Boston, but also close to major routes (2, 93, 90) heading North/South and East/West. The town is criss crossed by bus lines — both traditional and electric — as well as the Commuter Rail line into North Station. Alewife Station and the Red Line are 2 miles from downtown Belmont with access to Cambridge, Boston and beyond. Proximity to Boston and a walkable town are especially important features now that gas prices are nearing $4 a gallon, with little relief in sight. Of course, all that can be hard to quantify for folks who are moving into the area and might not understand why, say, a 3 bedroom, 2 bath home in Belmont will run them $600,000 or more, while a similar house in Framingham might be had for $450,000 or less. (Of course — even that number will probably be sticker shock to anyone who isn’t relocating from a similarly priced market like New York, D.C., Chicago or San Francisco.)
That’s why I really dig walkscore.com — a new Web site that rates addresses by how walker-friendly they are. The idea is simple: plug in an address, a la Google Maps, and walkscore dredges up all the amenities within walking distance of that location: libraries banks, shops, eateries and — of course — bars.
All that data is crammed into some black box, proprietary algorithm to calculate — you guessed it — the “walkscore” for that location. It’s a cool little site — and I like the fact that it’s not just limited to the San Francisco Bay Area, like so many cool, so-called Web 2.0 companies. It’s a great tool — though probably more of a feature than a business in itself. Still, for fuel (or environment) sensitive home shoppers or renters, this could be combined with Google Maps, Redfin.com or other resources to give you a pretty good idea of how much you’ll be needing your car — and what for.
My home, which is close to the town center, received a walk score of “80” out of 100, while our Town Hall gets a “74” rating. Frankly, I thought both those scores were pretty darned low considering that almost every amenity I need, plus two different options for public transportation, are two blocks away. But that’s where walkscore.com falls down. You see, as walkscore.com explains in its “things we don’t do” section, there are a few things that don’t get plugged into the walkscore algorithm, including kind of important factors such as access to public transportation, street length and width, pedestrian design and…oh yeah — topography! That last one’s a big problem for Bay Area users, as you might expect.
In short, having a train station, bus stop or subway station within blocks of your house isn’t figuring into your walkscore rating, though having a Starbucks and a nice dive bar nearby do. That’s going to handicap us here in Belmont, but check out Walkscore.com just for kicks — and let me know what your walkscore rating is!