Monday, April 16, 2012

Charlotte trails nation in walkability

Slate.com has been running a wonderfully written series about pedestrians, but in the No. 3 installment, about the WalkScore.com website, the article has a list of cities and neighborhoods deemed "most walkable" and "least walkable" according to the Walk Score formula. New York ranked most walkable. Charlotte wasn't least walkable that honor (?) went to Jacksonville, Fla. But the Queen City was the next-to-last.

I've written much about the need for more walkable neighborhoods and about more lights, crossings, sidewalks and just as important destinations within walking distance. And, as Tom Vanderbilt's article makes clear, part of Walk Score's value is that it bothers to quantify something that few other metrics do, and it coughs out an easily understood score, which makes comparisons easy. However,  it is not perfect.

Because of the flaws in the way it's done, the Walk Score also makes comparisons suspect. For instance, it deems the Cherry neighborhood the most walkable in Charlotte. Um, why?

 Although I feel affection and protective toward that small, African-American neighborhood snuggled next to, but predates, Myers Park, and much as I hope its proximity to uptown does not ensure a future of high-rises, and evocative though its bungalows are and its wonderful square, surrounded with a school, a church, stores and houses it is significantly less walkable than uptown (see photo above), or any of its neighborhoods. Yes, you can walk to Trader Joe's, but that isn't a full-service grocery. Is there a drug store in walkable distance? I suppose you can count the Target, but it's across some yucky high-capacity streets. Cherry is technically walkable, but not comfortably walkable. Uptown has better amenities for pedestrians, better access to jobs and better access to transit.

One commenter on Slate had this to say:

The Charlotte data is laughable.

Cherry is a neighborhood where you are quite likely to get yourself killed if you are silly enough to walk there. Also the locations labeled B, D, and A are in Dilworth. Location H is in Myers Park, and location I is on the campus of Central Piedmont Community College. Only location G could even possibly considered as being sort of kind of on the extreme southern border of Cherry, and businesses on Kings Drive I'm sure would never think of themselves as actually being "in" that blighted neighborhood.

Charlotte has some walkable neighborhoods, especially Fourth Ward and to a somewhat lesser extent the newly-gentrified First Ward, but seeing how horribly inaccurate the cited data is makes me wonder about the other cities in this slide show.


For the record, I question the assumption that you'd get killed walking through Cherry. It's  low-income, but that does not automatically equal Murder Central. But while Cherry is obviously a better place for pedestrians to get somewhere useful than, say, Windy Ridge, Raintree or Stonehaven, I would not rate it the city's most walkable neighborhood.

If you have nominations or thoughts, pop them into the comments section below. I moderate comments, so there could be a delay of a few minutes or longer before they appear.

9 comments:

Andria said...

I love the concept of a walk score, perhaps extended to the "food deserts" idea, and even as some have proposed, "news deserts." But indeed, it seems that any measure that counts only on quantified data misses lots. I like that the WalkScore people are considering combining their quantitative data with qualitative data from *people.* Sure, it can be gamed, but it'll be interesting to see what they come up with.

John said...

Is there a pharmacy within walking distance? Target is not THAT difficult to get to on foot. If you wish to avoid Charlottetowne@Kings, you can cross those streets at Metropolitan. Also, there's a Rite Aid at 544 Providence, a very easy walk. And there are several "real" pharmacies scattered around Presby Hosp and CMC.

Clearly there are problems with WalkScore's data and methodology, but let's not take it out on Cherry. From my perspective, it looks like an awesome place to walk in and from, especially now that greenway is open on the other side of Kings. And those businesses along King's Drive might not think of themselves as being part of the neighborhood, but the residents would certainly benefit from the fact that they are within walking distance.

jenifer daniels - the friendraiser said...

based on the data, Cherry probably is the one neighborhood that you can access several metrics. Target + Trader Joe's gets you a full grocery experience. the farmer's market in the area also helps. you're near the greenway, a college, several banks, the cleaners, etc.

while it may not be the optimal choice for actual "walking", using the metrics, it passes.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, the neighborhood boundaries skew rankings. The blocks of Plaza-Midwood just off Central Avenue are extremely walk-friendly and close to everything from groceries to frequent transit. However, since the neighborhood takes in other blocks by the country club, its overall score is lower.

Cherry is just a very small geographic area. Hence, its walk score is skewed favorably.

Hamilton said...

I also think Plaza-Midwood gets docked because of all the streets without sidewalks, or with only sidewalks on one side of the street. If you look at Walkscore's walkable neighborhoods, they are heavily weighted on double sidewalks.

karin said...

When considering "walkability": does that mean to get from A to B solely, or does it include options of: strolling, window shopping, letting your kid ride his scooter beside you, pushing a stroller, stoping and kissing? Sure in Cherry, I can walk, but do I want to walk there? How is wanting to walk quantified? By the way, you should walk in Cherry on Sunday at noon.

karin said...

and by the way, how do we make cities more walkable or likable for walking? By pushing for adequate policies? By creating awareness? By putting on our urban pioneer hats and just walking everywhere until policies happen? By teaming up with bike advocates and making cities more pedi and pedal centric/friendly? By showing that foot traffic is likely to increase local economy? By making the case that Charlotte is actually NOT family friendly because you need a car to get your kids anywhere? Is any of this possible in CLT? The neighborhoods are so disjointed.

misswhit said...

Part of the whole "disjointed" thing, at least for newer neighborhoods, is the history of the school system. Schools were not built for walking so neighborhoods were not either. In fact for some it was absolute anathema to have a school associated with any one neighborhood or group of neighborhoods. But over the past ten years assignment has for the most part become more neighborhood friendly. However, it's hard to retrofit for walkability, that's for sure (although sidewalks have been added along Ballantyne Commons Parkway near Robinson Middle and kids in nearby neighborhoods are taking advantage of that). And long established habits of not walking to school are hard to break.

Katie said...

I find Walkscore to be an interesting starting point to learning a new neighborhood; however, I do think that it's not incredibly accurate. My neighborhood is considered "somewhat walkable" by Walkscore; however, that's due to the shady bars down the street, a couple of private schools, and a few of equally iffy stores in the area.

Meanwhile, a city I'm considering moving to is filled with trails and parks, but none of that registers, so it's rated poorly by Walkscore. It is very bikeable, so I'm interested to see what happens as that portion of the website improves.

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