Real reason Detroit’s Walkscore increased? A bug fix

Walk Score recently ranked the most walkable U.S. cities of 2015. Detroit’s score has risen 2.2 points since 2011.

The Redfin Blog largely credited the revitalized Downtown — which Model D echoed.

“Downtown Detroit has become noticeably more walkable over the past few years thanks to Dan Gilbert’s initiative to move his company, Quicken Loans, and others from the suburbs back to the heart of the city,” said Lauren Buttazzoni, Redfin market manager in Detroit.

Downtown’s Walk Score has increased dramatically. In fact it scored an 18 in 2011, which is half the score Auburn Hills got. Now it scores a remarkable 93.

However, Redfin and Model D are both wrong. This increase was largely due to a bug fix in the Walk Score algorithms that was well-documented in 2012 by m-bike.org.

The old algorithms got confused on international borders. They chose the closest grocery stores, coffee shops, etc. as the crow flies. In Detroit, that often includes businesses in Windsor. When they calculated the walk distances across the Detroit River (hint: you can’t) the border areas got incorrect wrong scores.

That’s apparently fixed as seen in the Walk Score heatmap comparison graphic. You can see how the bug created a stairstep region of poor walkability along the river in 2011. That’s gone in 2015.

While we’re certainly grateful for Mr. Gilbert’s investments in Detroit, unless he made the algorithm fix himself, the credit for Detroit’s dramatically improved Walk Score belongs elsewhere.

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