Walkable Cities
People hit the streets in New York City.

A transit strike bumps up the number of people walking to work in the already walkable New York City.

AP Photo/Dima Gavrysh

­Cars are a big part of our culture: The average American household owns 2.2 cars, up by 10 percent from the early 1990s and 70 percent ­since 1955 [source: Mirhaydari]. Makes sense, since the suburban landscape has also been booming since the '50s. Of the $60 billion Congress spends every year on transportation, only 1.5 percent (roughly $3 per American) goes toward walking or biking projects [source: Walk Score]. Cars and highways are the priority, it seems. Some cities, however, are bucking that trend.

The Brookings Institution, a nonprofit research and public policy organization, recently evaluated 30 major cities in the United States on their walkability. They aren't the only ones interested in walkable communities. Walk Score also surveyed and ranked 40 cities based on similar ped-friendly thinking. Walkability doesn't mean a count of a city's sidewalks. Sure, sidewalks make it easier to walk around, but think about it -- if there are no local jobs, stores or entertainment, or if the crime rate is high, people will avoid hitting the pavement. The layout of a city is only the beginning. Pedestrian cities embrace the sustainable ideas of New Urbanism: mixed-use developments, high-density urban design and a downtown that is transit-based (public transportation, cars, bikes and feet).

­We'll look at five large metropolitan areas -- with populations of 500,000 or more -- that are a step ahead of other American cities in their walkability efforts.