NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Your city isn't convenient if the nearest store's a quick drive away. It's convenient if you don't have to drive to that store at all.
A convenient city is both walkable and easily accessible by public transportation, with jobs, schools, hospitals, groceries, entertainment and other amenities all within striking distance. That's increasingly the case in American cities, where public transportation systems have grown from little more than 1,000 in 1980 to 7,700 when the American Public Transportation Association public transit advocacy group last took inventory in 2009. From 1995 to 2008, the APTA says public transportation ridership increased by 38%, eclipsing the 21% growth of the highway system during the same period and outpacing the 14% growth of the U.S. population.
The people behind Walk Score, a Web-based service that rates the the convenience and transit friendliness of neighborhoods and cities, tend to expand that definition of convenience a bit when considering their scores. Ideally, Walk Score says a convenient neighborhood should have a center that could be either a main street or public space, enough people to keep the public transit running frequently, a good mix of housing and businesses, lots of parks and other spaces, amenities designed around pedestrians, schools, workplaces and "complete streets" (read: no cul de sacs) designed for pedestrians, cyclists and transit.
"Very often, you'll see a good pedestrian design with sidewalks and crosswalks that make a city more accessible and walkable," says Josh Herst, chief executive of Seattle-based Walk Score. "Even in cities that on the whole aren't that walkable, there are neighborhoods that are great places to walk."That combination of nearby transportation and amenities can increase a property's purchase value by up to $3,000, according to a CEOs For Cities study based on Walk Score data, and University of British Columbia professor Lawrence Frank found that residents of walkable neighborhoods tend to be at least seven pounds lighter than their counterparts in more sprawling areas. Meanwhile, the APTA notes that households that are more likely to use public transportation save more than $8,400, while households that use public transportation and live with one less car save an average of $9,000 annually. Last August, Walk Score began tracking the proximity and value of transit service in more than 120 cities with its Transit Score system. "In quite a few cities for quite a few reasons, including a desire to promote sustainability and public health and a number of economic benefits, we've seen interest in walkability continue to grow," Herst says. "We know that some communities are looking at Transit Score and doing some what-if analysis like 'If you added light rail service down this corridor, how much would that change the Transit Score for how many people?' With help from the APTA, Walk Score and the folks at real estate site Zillow, TheStreet found 10 cities in the U.S. that keep all the schools, shops, open studios and offices close by while keeping the car in park: