First, let's check the numbers. About 12 percent of New Haven commuters report walking to their jobs, which ranks the Elm City eighth nationally -- that's right alongside Washington D.C. and Boston.
Ben Berkowitz, CEO and founder of SeeClickFix, walks about a mile to his job in New Haven every day. He said a lot of things contribute to the Elm City's walkability, including mixed-use buildings, and shade from trees on the street. "Also," he said, "geography and terrain are hugely important. New Haven has the benefit of being, for the most part, flat."
There's also Yale. According to census data, 36 percent of New Haven's walkers are under the age of 24, which walking expert (and former U.S. racewalking competitor) Mark Fenton attributed to New Haven's high walkability numbers. "In a university town," he said, "you've got a ready population. If you build the walkable environment, they will come. They don't want to have to drive, and many of them can't drive."
Fenton also said one of the keys to walkability is downtown variety. "The most robust downtowns in America are the most walkable," he said. "So rather than having all your housing over here and a big mall over there where all the shopping is ... things are mixed up, which is what traditional small towns in New England used to be. You had a town square that had civic institutions, schools, churches, neighborhoods, playgrounds, parks -- they were all together. The more you mix land uses, the more people tend to walk between them."
And in case you're curious about patterns in other large Connecticut cities: in Hartford, about eight percent of commuters report walking to work. In Bridgeport, that number is around four percent.