Having realistic expectations for walkability

Let’s be frank about walkability.

A large percentage of communities in Southeast Michigan will never be very walkable. That doesn’t mean they can be improved, but it does mean they won’t be competitive.

And it was by choice.

They were purposely designed for low density (e.g. large residential lot sizes) and no mixed use development. In short, most things are too far away to walk to. Putting a sidewalk on one side of a road between a residential area and a shopping district doesn’t make it walkable if they’re separated by a mile or more.

As I told some residents last week, if your community wasn’t designed during the streetcar era, chances are it’s not very walkable.

Some communities are a mixed bag where the older portions are very walkable while the newer areas are not. Royal Oak is a good example of that. The downtown, an area once served by a number streetcar lines, is highly walkable. The northern portions of the city are more car dependent.

This is very apparent in this graphic from the WalkScore web site. The green areas indicate good walkability.

Birmingham: top 20 for walkability?

There is a major bicycle festival being planned for Birmingham this year, which sounds very promising. What caught our eye in the article was the statement that Birmingham was “recognized as one of top 20 most walkable communities in the country.” The Birmingham web site also says the city was named one of the country’s “Top 20 Most Walkable Communities.”

A Google search for the phrase “top 20 most walkable communities” return 47 matches, all of which referred only to Birmingham.

Irregardless, is Birmingham truly in the nation’s top 20 according to the Walk Score web site, arguably the best indicator of walkability? The Walk Score site determined the walkability of the 74 largest cities in Michigan. Birmingham is tied for 14th among these Michigan cities. It apparently has the same issues Royal Oak has: a walkable downtown, but less walkable outlying areas.

So what were the most walkable Michigan cities? Hamtramck, Clawson, and Berkley tied for first. Ferndale and Traverse City weren’t too far behind.

And Detroit?

While the city of Detroit scored lower, it also received scores by neighborhood. New Center was most walkable with Corktown and Midtown tied for second.

The declining Detroit population and the resulting loss of area businesses certainly hurts the walkability of Detroit. And while much has been made about the city potentially moving residents to more dense areas, it seems the draw of greater walkability might be more of a carrot.

USA Today just reported on walkability and how it is attracting young professionals.

Educated 20- and 30-somethings are flocking to live downtown in the USA’s largest cities — even urban centers that are losing population.

In more than two-thirds of the nation’s 51 largest cities, the young, college-educated population in the last decade grew twice as fast within 3 miles of the urban center as in the rest of the metropolitan area — up an average 26% compared with 13% in other parts.

Even in Detroit, where the population shrank by 25% since 2000, downtown added 2,000 young and educated residents during that time, up 59%, according to analysis of Census data by Impresa Inc., an economic consulting firm.

“This is a real glimmer of hope,” says Carol Coletta, head of CEOs for Cities, a non-profit consortium of city leaders that commissioned the research. “Clearly, the next generation of Americans is looking for different kinds of lifestyles — walkable, art, culture, entertainment.”

Yes, even in Detroit.

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4 Responses to “Having realistic expectations for walkability”

  1. Hot Weekend Breakfast Links: Happy Michigan Wine Month — A Healthier Michigan Says:

    […] Having realistic expectations for walkability (m-bike.org) […]

  2. Eric Says:

    Walkability also means bikeability, especially for children. Children don’t use on-street bike paths. They use sidewalks, as their parents would direct them. A mile bike ride is nothing for a child wanting to visit a friend or go get ice cream. Density studies have more to do with mass transit than walkability or bikeability.

  3. Jimmy Says:

    The WalkScore for downtown Detroit is severely flawed. I complained about it to them and they said that there’s some sort of bug in the system. I think it has to do with the proximity to the Canadian border, actually.

  4. Todd Scott Says:

    That’s good to know. I wondered about that since the Walkability heatmap showed an odd grid pattern along the riverfront.

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