Published on April 18, 2023
Walkable cities have numerous benefits — they’re more equitable, more sustainable and even better for the economy. Here are the top ten.
How likely are you to walk to your job, school or doctor’s office?
Walking is good for your health and good for the health of communities. It’s the perfect way to explore, discover hidden gems and get your daily steps in while enjoying some fresh air. But as many reports suggest, most cities are still captivated by cars.
An emerging urban planning trend is the concept of ’15-minute cities,’ where essential services and daily needs are reachable within a 15-minute walking or cycling distance. Imagine living just a short trip away from work, shopping, and parks.
Encouraging people to walk more has numerous benefits. Walkable cities are more equitable, better for the environment, and can even be better for the economy. Walking, like all forms of active mobility, is also good for your physical and mental health.
To establish walkable communities, placemaking plays a crucial role. By designing public spaces with the needs of the community in mind, placemaking creates safe and accessible neighbourhoods for pedestrians and cyclists. This can include green spaces, lively markets, public art, and complete streets — all contributing to the creation of livable neighbourhoods that people want to spend time in.
Vancouver, consistently ranked as one of the most walkable cities in Canada, is the only one on this list that meets the criteria to be “Very Walkable” (a score between 70-89).
“Over the past 10 years, Vancouver has placed a strong emphasis on development that supports walkability,” according to Redfin Vancouver, the company behind Walk Score.
Several neighbourhoods, including Downtown, West End, Fairview and Mount Pleasant, have a score topping 90 — meeting the criteria to be a “Walker’s Paradise”. The city also has the highest Bike Score, which measures bike infrastructure, destinations and connectivity.
Stepping into second place, Montreal is often heralded as one of the most European cities in Canada — and its walkability score reflects that.
Montreal is a pedestrian’s paradise, with vibrant streets and a variety of architectural styles that make it a joy to explore on foot. The city also features several types of streets that prioritizes foot traffic, including those reserved exclusively for pedestrians, and shared streets where pedestrians have priority.
Like Vancouver, Toronto has several neighbourhoods classified as a “Walker’s Paradise”. Redfin also points to the PATH — an underground pedestrian walkway network in downtown Toronto that spans more than 30 kilometres of restaurants, shopping and services — as helping its Walk Score.
According to Pedestrian First, 62% of Toronto residents are within a 1-kilometre walk of both education and healthcare, rating it above average in Canada. Toronto also ranks first in Canada for Transit Score, which measures frequency, type of transit (rail, bus, etc.) and distance to the nearest stop.
Striding into fourth place, Burnaby features several neighbourhoods with walkable downtown areas that provide easy access to a variety of amenities. But Burnaby city still lags on walkability compared to nearby Vancouver — only 25% of the city could be considered a 15-minute city, according to one study.
What it lacks in walkability it makes up for in public transit. Burnaby is served by 11 SkyTrain stops and many bus routes, making commuting easy and affordable.
Longueuil provides an escape from the urban core of Montreal while still offering convenient access to the island. The city hikes into fifth place in part due to its many parks, including Michel-Chartrand Park, which features over 10 kilometres of hiking trails.
Ranked third in all of Canada for its Bike Score, Longueuil is also cyclist’s paradise, with an extensive network of bike lanes and paths that make it easy to explore the city on two wheels.
Strolling into sixth place, Hamilton is the first city on this list classified as car-dependent, with just a few amenities within walking distance.
But the city has undergone a transformation in recent years, and its walkable neighbourhoods have played a role. Lower city communities in the core, west end and Dundas have become a hub for creative entrepreneurs and artists.
Not typically on anybody’s most walkable list, Mississauga is often cited as a prime example of urban sprawl — filled with low-density and car-centric development. But, the city, with a population of nearly 800,000, has in recent years encouraged transit-oriented development and densification in its core.
The city is taking significant steps to enhance its public spaces and create more walkable neighbourhoods. As an example, the Inspiration Port Credit plan aims revitalize the waterfront community into a pedestrian-friendly destination.
Winnipeg has several pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods, such as the Exchange District, Osborne Village, West Broadway and St. Boniface. These neighbourhoods offer a mix of walkable amenities, making them ideal to explore on foot.
But despite featuring a number of walkable neighbourhoods, Winnipeg as a whole remains heavily reliant on cars, with only 34% of residents within a 1-kilometre walk of both education and healthcare, according to Pedestrians First.
While some of its neighbourhoods are considered walkable, Surrey still has a reputation for being car-dependent and sprawling. The most pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods include the downtown area, Guildford and Fleetwood, which offer a mix of residential and commercial amenities within walking distance.
Surrey has also made progress to become a more bike-friendly city, with the construction of new bike lanes, the expansion of existing cycling routes, and the installation of bike parking facilities throughout the city.
Marching into 10th place on our list is Saskatoon, generally considered a car-dependent city, at least outside of the downtown core.
But, in the last decade, the city has been making efforts to become more pedestrian-friendly. The Complete Streets Policy, adopted in 2016, aims to design streets that are safe and accessible for all users, including pedestrians, and has already been implemented in several areas of the city.
A key strategy to foster walkable and bikeable neighbourhoods is to prioritize the creation of lively, sustainable public spaces. Placemaking has been shown to encourage active mobility and make neighbourhoods more inviting and accessible for people of all ages and abilities. Read more about the benefits of public spaces in cities.
Want to learn more about mobility solutions in Canada? Check out the Future Fix podcast: Experiments in Mobility.