Good news: San Francisco is the fifth most walkable city in America, according to a study by the Washington DC-based think tank Smart Growth America.
Bad news: That makes housing more expensive. But more good news: It also makes here a cheaper place to live. So, yes, it’s complicated.
SGA’s 2016 report "Foot Traffic Ahead" assesses and ranks the number of walkable neighborhoods in the U.S.’s 30 largest cities. Walkable in this case is defined as having 100 or more intersections per square mile, a walk score of 70.5 or better, and a sufficiently high density of commercial properties.
We came in number five, behind New York, Washington DC, Boston, and Chicago. But arguably we should rank even higher, since SGA lumped every Bay Area city together under one heading rather than evaluating just San Francisco alone. (Should we petition to have them censured? Hrumph.)
Los Angeles came in 17th, while San Diego and Sacramento ranked 23rd and 24th, respectively.
While this is great news, exactly what difference does it make? Well, to the surprise of no one who paid attention to which cities ended up at the top, here's the run—the more walkable a city, the pricier the homes. According to SGA, you’re paying 58 percent more in rent to live near a walkable San Francisco neighborhood.
(Could be worse: In New York, it’s 191 percent.)
But being able to rely on your feet to get around is also cheaper. While San Franciscans (and people in the wider Bay Area) pay 42 percent of our monthly income toward housing, we put only 19 percent toward transit. The average across all 30 cities is 25 percent for transit.
It’s a small edge, but it does mean that we barely avoid being more expensive overall than say, Kansas City (35 percent rent, 28 percent transit), Las Vegas (40/29), or Pittsburgh (34/30). When it comes to these two particular expenses, at least.
Which means that despite the housing crisis, SGA dubs us among the most socially equitable of major US metro zones. If that seems unlikely, keep in mind that all it means is that a lot of other places are getting squeezed even tighter right now. But it’s reason enough to thank your friendly neighborhood city planner in any case.