Thursday, November 14, 2013

Least walkable city in U.S. is - wait a minute, that's us!

Uptown is one of Charlotte's most walkable areas, along with First and Fourth wards. Photo: Nancy Pierce
(Friday, Nov. 15: I've updated this with comments from Charlotte transportation officials. To see that expanded version, visit the article in "Charlotte trails nation in walkability rankings.")

Want to guess the large U.S. city rated worst for walkability by Walk Score, the national rating system?

That would be the Queen City. Take a look at the 2014 report. New York rated No. 1, followed by San Francisco, Boston, Washington and Miami.

But what does this ranking measure? The Walk Score website says it "measures the walkability of any address using a patent-pending system. For each address, Walk Score analyzes hundreds of walking routes to nearby amenities. Points are awarded based on the distance to amenities in each category. Amenities within a 5-minute walk (.25 miles) are given maximum points. A decay function is used to give points to more distant amenities, with no points given after a 30-minute walk.
Walk Score also measures pedestrian friendliness by analyzing population density and road metrics such as block length and intersection density. Data sources include Google,, Open Street Map, the U.S. Census, Localeze, and places added by the Walk Score user community."

If I read that correctly, Walk Score doesn't measure the existence of sidewalks (although Charlotte wouldn't rank very high in that regard either). So this city's typical Sun Belt-all-spread-out, low-density development means anything you'd want to walk to is probably farther away than in a more densely developed area.

Charlotte also would ran low in block length and intersection density - which essentially measures how well networked the city is with plenty of streets and street corners.Many parts of Charlotte developed during the cul-de-sac era, when streets intentionally did not connect to anything.
Even uptown, which at least had a strong grid when it was laid out a couple of centuries ago, has seen many instances of streets being eliminated to accommodate large-footprint projects such as ballparks, stadiums, convention centers and parks.

I'm seeking comment from Charlotte Department of Transportation officials, but I doubt this ranking will surprise them.