Just in time for the recent announcement of America's most and least walkable cities, Google has added a tool for finding walking directions to its maps. The Google Lat Long Blog (as reported by Grist) details the latest improvements: Walking directions ignore whether or not streets are one-way, offering the fastest point from point A to point B.
However, the walking directions are still under development, so off-road features like pedestrian paths won't show up yet. Neither will shortcuts through traffic circles or parks. For cities where Google has mapped public transit directions, you'll now find walking directions automatically from the point where you'd exit the subway or bus stop.
Google maps of walking directions will be great for tourists and those who want to rediscover their own cities by foot, but they won't be truly eco-friendly until they're added to mobile devices. Because they are in beta, if you want to take directions with you as you walk, you'll have to print them out.
Citizens of Jacksonville, Fla., apparently won't find the service to be of much use. Jacksonville was ranked by WalkScore as the least walkable major city in the United States, followed by Nashville, Charlotte, N.C., Indianapolis, Oklahoma City, Memphis, Kansas City, Mo., Fort Worth, El Paso, Texas, and Mesa, Ariz.
The most walkable? San Francisco, considered a "walker's paradise." New York, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Seattle, Washington, D.C., Long Beach, Calif., Los Angeles, and Portland, Ore., round out the top 10.
WalkScore relies on Google data, so perhaps we'll see a marriage of the two sites soon. A city's score is based on how easy it is to follow a car-free lifestyle, tallying the number of grocery stores, restaurants, schools, and businesses that can be reached on foot. It does not take into account factors like safety, the availability of public transportation, walkway design, or how much of the community actually does walk (hence the high rank of Los Angeles, notorious for its driving culture).
So the system, like Google's walking directions, is not perfect. Aware of this, WalkScore and Google both offer the caveat that pedestrians should use caution when walking in unfamiliar areas. Nevertheless, the benefits of walking (and making our communities more walkable) are obvious: It's cheaper, cleaner, and more healthful.