“Cleveland has some public transportation and is somewhat bikeable. The most walkable Cleveland neighborhoods are Downtown, Ohio City-West Side and Detroit Shoreway.”—Walkscore.com
What are the best cities in America for a walk? There’s little surprise in the top 5 of the 2014 Walkscores, a broad measure of how convenient it is to walk, ride a bike or find a bus in your city.
Some see it as an indicator of how you’d fare in a city without a car. In a comparison of mid-sized, Midwestern cities, Buffalo ranks highest (8th) followed by Pittsburgh (13th). Ohio’s major metros are all more car-centric: Cleveland (16th), Cincinnati (21st), Columbus (27th) and Toledo (40th).
Walkscore looks at the density of things to do and of ways to get there. Older cities like Cleveland tend to score higher. Cleveland scored a 56.8 overall (and that includes the industrial valley where no one lives). Drill down into that and you’ll find neighborhoods that rank with Chicago and New York. Meaning, we have places with good bones to build on.
But, how does Cleveland keep its foothold as a walk friendly place? Walkability is connected to density, as Lakewood’s 64 score proves. Lakewood is the most dense city in Ohio and its higher walk score reflects that.
Which city ranks up there with Lakewood? If you guessed East Cleveland (57) you would be correct. Despite its economic troubles, East Cleveland also has good bones to build on. It was planned during an era of walking and streetcar riding. Cleveland Heights (48.5) also gets high marks from Walkscore.
But, some inner-ring suburbs have room for improvement in walk friendliness. Rocky River (40), Shaker Heights (39) and Parma (35) score lower. As suburbs started building wider main streets, longer blocks, commercial districts with giant parking lots in front, their density and walkability suffered. The most discouraging places to walk in Northeast Ohio are Strongsville (16), Twinsburg (13) and Hudson (10).
In Transit Score, Cleveland’s rank slipped from #14 in 2013 to #21 in 2014. The ranking looks at population density within walking distance of transit stops. Moving ahead of Cleveland in the rankings were Buffalo, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Oakland and Santa Anna. Much of that is due to underfunding from Ohio. The state, long a laggard on contributing gas tax revenues to transit, is finally realizing it cannot afford to build more roads and maintain the ones already built, and is studying how to improve transit.
While Cleveland may never compete on Walkscore with incredibly dense cities like New York, Bike Score is a level playing field. It’s what makes Minneapolis' top ranking for bike friendliness—with the same population and snowier winters than Cleveland—more about political will than density. Even New West places like Las Vegas, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Plano, and Miami that love their cars have stepped past Cleveland in the Bike score. The issue here is certainly attitude more than altitude. By this we mean these places have adopted an attitude that investing in bikes as transportation doesn’t come at the expense of keeping roads in good condition for cars. As an aside, almost every one of the top Bike Score cities in the U.S. has a bike share system and goals for how many bike lanes they'll paint per year.