Walkability Index


Measuring the physical characteristics of a neighbourhood is the first step to understanding how walkable it is. Walkability is largely a function of the proximity and connectivity between destinations, or the degree to which we can travel directly between places where we live, work and play. Though the term refers to walking specifically, the characteristics of walkable neighbourhoods also support other forms of transportation, like cycling and transit. Measures that are able to capture the nuances of proximity and connectivity as they relate to travel and health outcomes can inform land use and transportation planning, policy, and investment decisions.

The Health & Community Design Lab developed a tool, called the WALKABILITY INDEX, to measure the characteristics of the physical environment that contribute to walkable (pedestrian-friendly, transit-supportive) neighbourhood design. Walkability Index measures have been developed for Metro Vancouver and the Region of Waterloo, Ontario and have been used to create WALKABILITY SURFACES, maps of walkability index values to visualize walkability across a geographic area. Walkability Index measures developed by the lab can be combined with other data to model built environment influences on travel, physical activity, diet, and greenhouse gas emissions. The NEWPATH project is one example of how these measures can be integrated into a single framework to build local evidence in support of walkable, healthy communities.


The WALKABILITY INDEX includes four components that capture differences in the physical environment:

  • Residential density is the number of residential units per acre within a neighbourhood. A higher value indicates that more people live in the area.
  • Commercial density (also called Retail Floor Area Ratio) is the amount of area designated for commercial use within a neighbourhood. A higher value indicates that more businesses, restaurants, retail shops and other commercial uses are located in the area.
  • Land use mix is the degree of mixing of different types of land uses (such as residential, commercial, entertainment, and office development) in a specific area. A higher value indicates a more even distribution of land between the different types of land uses.
  • Street connectivity is measured by the number of street intersections in a neighbourhood. A higher value indicates more intersections and a greater degree of connectivity enabling more direct travel between two points using existing streets and pathways.

These components all play a role in shaping the walkability of our neighbourhoods, separately or in combination. Data from these four components are combined into a composite value of overall walkability to measure the physical aspects of the environment. The standard walkability index for each neighbourhood is expressed as a unitless number. This is useful in relative terms: the higher the number, the more walkable a neighbourhood is based on the indicators used.


The WALKABILITY SURFACE is a map that illustrates the spatial distribution of walkability levels throughout a region using data from the Walkability Index. Highly walkable neighbourhoods appear in purple, moderately walkable neighbourhoods in shades of orange, and the least walkable neighbourhoods are in light yellow.

2011 walkability surface.2013 version

Walkability Surface.  A map of walkability index values for all of Metro Vancouver in 2013.

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