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. Here’s a link to its 2014 report. The top-rated city was New York, followed by San Francisco, Boston, Washington and Miami.

Essentially, Walk Score measure how many amenities are within easy walking distance, as well as population density, street connectivity, block length and intersection density. So different neighborhoods in a city will have different Walk Scores.

Its measures don’t take into account whether sidewalks exist (although Charlotte wouldn't rank  high in that regard either), but rather such things as nearby grocery stores, coffee shops and other things you might want to walk to.

Walk Score also takes into account things like block length and intersection density, essentially measuring how well networked a city is. By contrast, many parts of Charlotte developed during the cul-de-sac era, when streets intentionally did not connect to anything. (The city in recent years has changed it ordinances to require more connecting streets in new developments.)  Even in uptown, which had a strong grid when it was laid out a couple of centuries ago, many smaller blocks have been enlarged and streets eliminated to accommodate large-footprint projects such as ballparks, stadiums, convention centers and parks.

How does Walk Score work? The Redfin 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, Education.com, Open Street Map, the U.S. Census, Localeze, and places added by the Walk Score user community.”

Officials at Charlotte’s transportation department weren’t surprised at the city’s ranking. They’re familiar with Walk Score, to the extent that the City Council has adopted a goal for 2013-14 to improve Charlotte’s Walk Score compared to peer cities and to increase the score in the city’s mixed-use activity centers and transit station areas. (Click here to download the city’s transportation goals.)

“It certainly is hard to compete with large historic cities where development patterns mostly were established before the automobile age,” Transportation Director Danny Pleasant said in an email. “The good news is some Charlotte neighborhoods saw an improvement in their walk scores due to infill development. But admittedly we have a ways to go.”

Like Pleasant, Charlotte transportation planning manager Dan Gallagher noted that Charlotte covers a large land area – about the same as New York City, Pleasant said – yet has nowhere near the density of homes, stores and businesses.

“Parts of Charlotte were developed, over a number of decades, in a way that isolated land uses from each other,” Gallagher said in an email. “While we have pockets of Charlotte that rate high on Walk Score, we also have many areas that rate poorly.”

Although Walk Score is “not a perfect tool,” he said, “it's nothing to shy away from.”