Posts Tagged ‘walkability’

Michigan Infrastructure Dashboard

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Michigan has a performance dashboard that gives some very high level indicators which try to convey a sense of whether we’re improving or not.

The indicators are grouped into five main categories: infrastructure, Michigan, education, health and wellness, and talent.

There aren’t any indicators showing how we’re doing with respect to walking or biking, so we suggested two additions to the Mobility section of the Infrastructure dashboard.

For walking, we suggested a count of the number of Michigan cities given a “Very Walkable” rating or better from walkscore. com. Currently no Michigan cities have that rating but Hamtramck is very, very close. Given that no Michigan city is considered very walkable, it doesn’t seem likely they’ll appreciate this suggestion. We wouldn’t be overly disappointed if they lowered the bar so that some cities are counted. That would be better than nothing.

For biking, we suggesteded a count of the number of Bicycle Friendly Communities within the state. Currently that’s 7.

Why not use the number of Complete Street policies? While the Michigan Complete Streets Coalition lists a map with “Complete Street policies”, it really isn’t. It lists communities that have passed ordinances and resolutions, some of which we know have little to no intention of having a Complete Streets policy. And some are co-opting the Complete Streets definition.

Similarly, some communities have “non-motorized plans” which are merely sidewalk or trails plans. What is and what is not a proper non-motorized plan is subjective. And just having a plan doesn’t mean it’s being implemented any time soon.

For these reasons, we think using the third-party evaluations for walking and biking make much more sense.

One more benefit? These evaluations are consistent nationally. If Michigan is to compete with the rest of America, we need to measure ourselves accurately against the other 49.

We’ll let you know if we get any response from the state.

Metro Detroit: The walkability factor

Monday, December 5th, 2011

University of Michigan professor and Brookings Institute fellow Chris Leinberger wrote an interesting op-ed in the New York Times, The Death of the Fringe Suburb.

The article reiterates much of Leinberger’s presentation given earlier this year at CCS in Detroit. In summary, there is “great pent-up demand for walkable, centrally located neighborhoods” rather than sprawling outer suburbs.

Given this demand, he calls for increased investment in cities and its surrounding, older suburbs.

The cities and inner-ring suburbs that will be the foundation of the recovery require significant investment at a time of government retrenchment. Bus and light-rail systems, bike lanes and pedestrian improvements — what traffic engineers dismissively call “alternative transportation” — are vital. So is the repair of infrastructure like roads and bridges. Places as diverse as Los Angeles, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Dallas, Charlotte, Denver and Washington have recently voted to pay for “alternative transportation,” mindful of the dividends to be reaped. As Congress works to reauthorize highway and transit legislation, it must give metropolitan areas greater flexibility for financing transportation, rather than mandating that the vast bulk of the money can be used only for roads.

Lisa Rayle of Data Driven Detroit (D3) wrote this great companion piece that estimates Metro Detroit’s potential walkability based on street patterns. Basically, more dense American street grids promote walkability, while sprawling, cul-de-sac designs do not. It’s something we covered some time ago since street patterns also affect bike friendliness.

D3 analyzed block sizes in Metro Detroit to evaluate street patterns and therefore potential walkability — and created a map.

The map shows average block sizes in the Detroit region. Blue indicates a walkable street grid, or something close to it. Yellow indicates streets too far apart to be walkable. (Because this map is based on Census TIGER files, not street data, it is only an approximate estimate of block size.)

Block size is not all that matters. To be walkable, neighborhoods need destinations (schools, grocery stores, jobs) within walking distance. They need a certain density (usually at least 20-25 dwelling units per acre). They need to be safe, with good sidewalks, lighting, and protection from traffic. The above map does not include any of these factors. But the map does indicate, approximately, which areas have the underlying structure for walkability, upon which more convenient destinations and a better walking environment might be built.

Rayle’s last point is important. Block size determines potential walkability. Your destinations still need to be within walking distance. A quick review of the Michigan city walkability scores brings home the reality that we have much room for improvement.

And finally, it’s no surprise that this map aligns with what we wrote late last month about the varying bike-friendliness of Metro Detroit (Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties.) Bike-friendliness and walkability are closely related.

UPDATE: Rayle also wrote this interesting look at how the street grid (and walkability) in Downtown Detroit has degraded over time.

Having realistic expectations for walkability

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

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.