Walkonomics is using open data to build a street-grading platform

By Nathaniel Mott , written on November 6, 2012

From The News Desk

Sometimes the hardest places to get are right down the street. Real estate brokers can hawk the benefits of a particular neighborhood and emphasize the proximity of stores, schools, and hospitals, but distance is only half the problem. Walking a long distance through a safe, clean neighborhood is often preferable to walking a shorter distance through a grimy, crime-ridden street.

Unfortunately, most mapping products value distance and little else. Google Maps has taken my fiancee and I down a winding, gravel road instead of a straight, paved one because it's technically a shorter distance, much to my (and the suspension on my fiancee's car) chagrin. Walkonomics, a UK-based startup, is working on a different solution that ranks a street based on its cleanliness, safety, and slope.

Founded in 2011, Walkonomics combines publicly-available data with user-generated reviews to give streets a walkability rating. Adam Davies, the company's founder, says that Walkonomics has pulled data for most of the streets in London, New York, and San Francisco and is currently working to expand its presence by launching in Toronto and other North American cities. The company is announcing the release of its Android application, which works in conjunction with the Walkonomics website to create a walkability-based maps platform.

Essentially, Walkonomics gathers data about a road's slope (flatter roads are easier to walk on), crime rates in the surrounding neighborhood, the number of times people call the government to complain about the street, and other factors and then mashes it all together to come up with a singular score. Data is gathered from public databases, which can be a boon – free data! – or a hindrance, as different cities gather and disseminate data in different ways.

The service currently displays little "pins" that denote a street's ranking (the same way Google or Apple's maps products drop a pin to show a specific location) but Davies says that future versions will create a map that shows each street as a specific color. Prospective home buyers would be able to view a street and know whether or not it would be ideal for them at a glance, and local committees or governments could check in on the status of a specific neighborhood.

Davies' ultimate goal is to turn Walkonomics into a new mapping platform that could offer walking directions that aren't based on distance, and are instead based on safety, cleanliness, slope, etc. Rather than shoehorning everyone through the same exact route, Walkonomics could offer personalized routes that cater to each user's needs.

This service seems to be a long way off, however. Walkonomics has to gather a lot of data from a lot of cities, interpret it, and build its community before these personalized walkabouts can become available. As mentioned above, the reliance on public data is an obstacle that might make it harder to launch in, say, Salt Lake City than it is to launch in New York. Gathering all of this data and finding a way to effectively score it will take some time.

The concept is interesting, though. It's safe to say that most people would rather walk through a clean, safe street than the alternative, and right now walking directions are a bit of a crap shoot. If Walkonomics can pull this off before a company with more resources steps in and grabs the crown (lookin' at you, Google), it could be a hit. Unfortunately, as they say, the service will have to walk before it can run.

[Image Credit: Life]