How CT's biggest cities rank for walking and biking — and what experts think scores really say

Photo of Amy Coval

For those who are looking to walk and bike around a city in Connecticut, data shows you should head to New Haven.

Connecticut data from Walk Score, a site that compiles walk and bike scores for individual cities, ranked New Haven the highest for walking and biking scores out of the 32 largest cities in Connecticut that were included in its data, with scores of 68 and 66 respectively. Hartford and Bridgeport were No. 2 and No. 3 for both walking and biking, and while Stamford was No. 4 for walking, New Britain took spot No. 4 for biking.

Walk scores were calculated by analyzing the number of errands (grocery stores, schools, doctors, restaurants and retail, among others) that can be reached by foot from residences. The highest marks are given for errands or amenities that are within a five minute walk or a .25 mile radius. After anything more than that time and distance, fewer points are awarded, and no points are awarded for anything greater than a 30 minute walk. 

Bike scores were calculated by analyzing the number of errands can be achieved by bike, but it takes into account things like hills, bike connectivity (how connected the bike lanes are to each other) and lane type. For example, separate bike paths are awarded the highest marks, and shared car-bike lanes got the least points. 

Elihu Rubin is an associate professor of urbanism at the Yale School of Architecture. He said that he believes recent additions in New Haven housing units are pushing its score to the top in Connecticut.

"In New Haven, we are in the middle of a huge building boom; apartment units are sprouting up like mushrooms all over," Rubin said. "With all of that housing packed downtown, if one of the indicators of these high scores is the proximity of housing to services, you’re going to see those numbers spike since we are loading up on downtown housing."

New Haven officials join Spinnaker Real Estate Partners and their business partners for a ground breaking ceremony for phase three of The Audubon New Haven apartments in New Haven on August 10, 2022. In the background is the completed phase one.
New Haven officials join Spinnaker Real Estate Partners and their business partners for a ground breaking ceremony for phase three of The Audubon New Haven apartments in New Haven on August 10, 2022. In the background is the completed phase one.Arnold Gold/Hearst Connecticut Media

Rubin said that although New Haven residents may be in proximity to certain amenities like grocery stores and schools, the walk and bike score data does not take in to account the quality of these nearby services. For example, Rubin said that most downtown grocery stores do not offer affordable food items. Additionally, being near a bodega, or convenience store, could count as having proximity and get a high score, but it does not account for quality of the products within it.

"Most of the grocery stores have been suburbanized, like the ones in New Haven," Rubin said. "We have the Elm City Market here in downtown New Haven, which is very expensive. The grocery store that most working people in the city go to is like the Stop and Shop on Whalley Avenue, and most people drive there because Whalley Avenue is not a pedestrian-friendly street.”

Elm City Market, Monday in New Haven.
Elm City Market, Monday in New Haven.Catherine Avalone — New Haven Register

Additionally, Connecticut does not score relatively high compared to its neighboring New England states. Even excluding major cities like New York and Boston, the walk scores for the other largest cities in Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey walk scores for their largest cities are ranking more consistently in the 70s, 80s and even 90s, data shows.

Donald Poland is a Hartford-based geographer and professional planner with years of experience in community development. Poland said that Connecticut's relatively lower walk and bike scores have a lot to do with the time period these cities grew in. 

"It really comes back to say that [for example,] Hartford didn't experience the intense, rapid growth that say a Boston or a New York experienced," Poland said. "Therefore, even its industrial era development and housing to support it never needed to be as dense as what was developed elsewhere."

Although Walk Score data reports how walkable and bikeable cities are better for the economy and how they increase real estate value, Poland said that the statistics are more for show and are not a full reflection of a community's walking or biking habits.

"[In] my own research years ago into West Hartford center, the realtors told me proximity to the center mattered to buyers," Poland said. "They also told me complete sidewalks between the [residential areas] to the center was extremely important to buyers. But then, when I interviewed people that lived near the center and asked them about their behaviors and their walking to the center, most of them said they rarely ever do it."

West Hartford’s acting town manager proposed a $317 million town budget.

West Hartford’s acting town manager proposed a $317 million town budget.

Christian Abraham / Hearst Connecticut Media

Poland continued that although there is value in having the availability of walking and biking, people enjoy that idea of it far more than they actually do it. Rubin said while the old "planner's fantasy" was a network of communities connected by highways, the new one is walkable, bikeable cities. However, Poland and Rubin agree that the scores ultimately point to a society where driving will continue to be the norm.

"I just think at the end of the day we are a car dependent society — regardless of walkability scores," Poland said.