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Sue Carpenter and her car-free existence - Walking in LA

A walkable distance is less than one mile, according to L.A. Metro
A walkable distance is less than one mile, according to L.A. Metro

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During my car-free October, I've discovered taking public transit has an unanticipated health benefit. It’s almost like a gym membership — without the monthly fee, the time commitment or the special trip it takes to get there.

That's because I'm walking about twice as much as I did before hiding my own car keys -- between four and fives miles each day, much of it to and from and between buses and trains.

Turns out I’m like most transit riders in L.A.

"About 80% of our customers walk to one of our stations," said Laura Cornejo, Metro’s deputy executive officer of active transportation. "We are a bus and rail operation agency and now bike share, but really everyone starts their trip by foot and so that’s something that is really important for us when we initiate all of our planning efforts.”

Efforts like the L.A. County Traffic Improvement Plan, or Measure M.

Right now, about half of L.A. County residents live within three miles of a bus or rail station. Once Measure M’s projects are complete, the goal is that almost everyone will be within three miles of public transit.

But how to travel those three miles. Even Metro admits "a comfortable walking distance is less than a mile, typically a quarter to a half mile," Cornejo said.

That’s why walkability has become such a buzz word in urban and transportation planning circles.

"We define walkable as a place where you can get a lot of stuff done on foot, like groceries, maybe work, school, the hardware store, the pub. Just everyday stuff," said Eric Scharnhost, a livability analyst with Walk Score — an entity owned by the real estate brokerage Redfin that rates addresses based on their walkability.

Walkability is determined in part by block size. Short blocks, with lots of intersections that slow traffic and make an area safer for pedestrians, are more walkable than long blocks.

This Walk Score — with 100 being the most walkable — is more and more coveted. According to Scharnhorst, "Overwhelmingly coast to coast we saw in this brand new survey that recent home buyers wish they had traded square footage for proximity."