The Value of Walkability

Last week DC Streetsblog reported on a new survey from Kaiser Permanente. The survey covers Americans’ attitudes toward walking and their self-reported walking habits. While a substantial majority of people believe that walking has health benefits ranging from weight management to alleviating depression, the survey found that most people walk less than the 150 minutes per week that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends. The Streetsblog coverage attributes a lack of walkable infrastructure to low walking rates, although it’s not clear to me that the survey explicitly supports this conclusion. However, past research demonstrates that people who live in neighborhoods where they are able to complete errands on foot do, unsurprisingly, do walk more than those who don’t.

While people may not cite walkabilty as an important consideration in choosing a house, choosing a home involves weighing many factors, from size, price, distance to work and other amenities, aesthetic, and countless others factors. Consumers rely on tacit knowledge to weigh many of these factors because they can’t consciously enumerate all of them in making a decision of where to live.

For this reason, revealed preference theory is a more reliable tool than survey data for observing how consumers value one attribute of a complex good like housing. Building on a past project, my colleague Eli Dourado and I are studying whether or not consumers do pay a premium for greater neighborhood walkability. Using a fixed-effects model, across all metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas in the United States, our preliminary results indicate that, on average, Americans are willing to pay a premium of about $850 for a house with one additional point in Walk Score. Because of the many restrictions that limit walkable development, consumers have to pay this premium for the scarce supply of houses in walkable neighborhoods.

This finding also indicates that, in a world with fewer regulations limiting the supply of walkable development, the free market would provide a greater supply of walkable neighborhoods because developers have opportunities to profit from doing so that are currently prevented by regulations. In a freer market, more people would have the opportunity to live in neighborhoods where completing daily errands on foot is feasible. These findings don’t tell us what, if any, public health improvements would be seen from more people living in walkable neighborhoods, but they give us a clearer picture of the value people place on walkability than survey data does.

Market suburbanistsoften cite survey data finding that most people prefer detached, single family homes to living in multifamily housing. They also often say that revealed preferences back up these surveys because most Americans live in single family homes. Indeed, this is true, even in the largest cities. However, looking at the housing choices that Americans make while ignoring both regulations that limit the potential choice set and without considering the prices consumers pay is misleading, like saying Americans prefer Fords to BMWs because there are more of them on the road.

An understanding of consumers’ complex decision process in selecting a home cannot be accurately gleaned from either survey or Census data; rather, this information should be observed based on the price that emerges between buyers and sellers in the market. While, all else equal, most people might prefer a large detached house with a big yard, in weighing the many factors like proximity to amenities, price, and house size, we find that people are willing to pay a premium for walkability.

While I’m not prepared to make any claims about health benefits from permitting more walkability, it is clear that people are willing to pay a premium to live in more walkable neighborhoods and that in a freer market, more walkable development would be provided.

  • http://ithacabuilds.com/ Jason Henderson

    Is the new study along the lines of what Joe Cortright did for CEOs for Cities?: http://www.ceosforcities.org/research/walking-the-walk/
    Sounds interesting, especially if your approach is for all metro areas, rather than just the 15 markets they used in Walking the Walk.

  • John

    is there a link to the working paper anywhere? I’d love to read it

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  • Emily Washington

    Thanks, we haven’t written our finding up yet, but I’ll share it once we do.

  • Emily Washington

    Yeah, we’re asking the same question for all cities. I read it a while back, but I believe the Cortright study has better sales data because it’s a smaller sample (we’re using American Community Survey Data), but we’re working on getting better data for all cities.

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  • Mariela Alfonzo

    Cortright’s study did look at price premiums related to Walkscore, however, they did not use a revealed preferences approach that Washington and Dourado have implemented. Instead, Cortright analyzed the Walkscore data and real estate data (they ZipRealty data) using hedonic regression. My coauthor (Chris Leinberger) and I also used hedonic/hierarchical linear regression to analyze the relationship between walkability and the built environment in our Brookings report published last year, Walk this Way http://bit.ly/JAb9OE. We used the State of Place Index http://bit.ly/NpJ7rA to measure walkability/place instead of Walkscore and used Costar data for commercial real estate data (retail and office), Zillow for for-sale residential, and REIS for apartment-rental data, in the DC-Metro area.

  • Mariela Alfonzo

    Looking forward to following your work! We’re implementing a similar approach (revealed preferences) in China right now. We’re evaluating link between built env. (also using State of Place) and health as well as willingness to pay/preferences for the elements that make up walkable neighborhoods.

  • http://www.alwaysyouthful.com/ Alina Mark

    I would love to
    have a house with walk ability. I prefer walking than taking some sort of
    transportation so I am planning to move out of my current apartment and move
    somewhere near my work place. http://www.empireindustriesllc.com/

  • Emily Washington

    Thanks, Mariela. I was very interested in your work in your Walk this Way report and look forward to your your future work on this topic in China.

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  • peosauk1994

    Recently I was REALLY low on cash and debts were eating me from all sides! That was UNTIL I decided to make money.. on the internet. I went to surveymoneymaker dot net, and started filling in surveys for cash, and surely I’ve been far more able to pay my bills!! I’m so glad, I did this!!! With all the financial stress these years, I really hope all of you will give it a chance. – gthf

  • http://fontofliberty.blogspot.com/ Rarian Rakista

    You libertarian manchildren going to argue for private sidewalks now?

    Lol. Holy fuck this site is comedy gold.

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