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U of T student’s Run Score idea sparks interest

A University of Toronto student athlete calls for the development of a Run Score in the pages of an urban planning magazine

University of Toronto runner and urban studies student Alexander (AJ) Bimm, who is currently serving an internship at at the urban issues magazine Spacing: Toronto, had a moment in the spotlight today. He recently explored the idea for a Run Score (that would serve a similar purpose to Walk Score, but for runners) in a story published on the magazine’s website, and it caught the attention of runner and radio host Matt Galloway, who invited him on the local CBC Radio’s Metro Morning to talk about the idea.

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(In 2015 Galloway kept a one-year run streak going, running every day and reflecting on the experience with us.)

Run Score is an idea worth exploring. You’re probably familiar with Walk Score, the Seattle-based company that has been measuring the walkability of any address in the world since 2007. The site, which gives locations a score between 1 (indicating low walkability) and 100 (optimally walkable), serves city planners and ordinary citizens looking for better ways (and places) to live.

Not only is running a great way to stay fit and healthy, Bimm argues, but for a growing number of people it is a form of active transportation, equivalent in utility to driving, cycling, or using public transit. It’s a way for runners to get miles in while traveling to their jobs in a way that both saves money and spares the environment–and these are all good things for cities and neighbourhoods. So having cities and neighbourhoods that are safe and well designed for running just makes sense.

Bimm quotes Jim Creeggan, bassist for the Barenaked Ladies, a former University of Toronto runner who loves to get to know a city by going for a run–something all runners can relate to. “Runnable streets are one of the best attributes of a city,” says Creeggan.

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Whereas Walk Score considers safety and the walking distance people to access amenities, shops and services, Run Score would be just as concerned with safety and the connectivity of roads and trails, but less so with the distance to amenities. Also, such a scale could take into account a neighbourhood or city’s topography, variability of terrain and elevation changes.

Creeggan points to the accessibility of Toronto’s extensive ravine system as one of the factors that make the city highly runnable as well as walkable (though without an algorithm to measure this, there’s no way to know how Toronto compares with other cities). The city’s cemeteries and parks also provide safe running routes away from traffic.

AJ Bimm in 2016. Photo: Facebook

Bimm is a middle distance runner in his fourth year at University of Toronto, focusing on the 800m. He helped his team to third place finishes in both the 4 x 800m and 4 x 400m at U Sports last year. He says he would love to partner with Walk Score or anyone else interested in exploring the Run Score idea. “It would make a great research project,” he says.