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How walkable is Northeast Ohio? 2014 rankings are out.

Marc Lefkowitz  |  11/13/13 @ 10:15am  |  Posted in Biking, Transit, Walking

“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

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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.

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The Fatally Flawed WalkScore
4 years ago

I think that our back-and-forth hi-lites the fact that walkability is an amorphous concept. What makes a neighborhood or city walkable? Simply that there are sidewalks (I often here it defined this way), amenities within walking distance (but which amenities matter?), infrastructure that allows folks to live a low-motor-vehicle-mileage lifestyle, infrastructure that encourages walking by accommodating walking over driving, or some combination of all of these? As an example of our struggle with this concept, I recall that in a previous post GCBL held up Shaker Heights as an example of walkability but, according to the comments below, it seems that this is no longer the case. In any event, I don't think that the reporting on the WalkScore ratings by GCBL and The Plain Dealer is complete because it failed to adequately describe (and critique) the methodology that WalkScore uses to arrive at its ratings and the nomenclature it uses for its ratings. For instance, as I mentioned, the WalkScore rating for my neighborhood (i.e., "Car-Dependent") is patently false, because it fails to take into account the tremendous convenience of living within walking distance of the region's best public transit. And, the WalkScore rating for downtown (i.e., a "Walker's Paradise") also misses the point, because, although downtown is dense and has many amenities and attractions within walking distance, it really isn't pedestrian friendly (see, e.g., the dangerous crossings between the segments of the Malls and the expansive crossing, with short lights, across almost all downtown streets), which I think most folks would agree is necessary for it to achieve "paradise" status for walkers. Also, Detroit-Shoreway scored high, but it lacks a full-service grocery store. How is that the case? So, how do GCBL and liveable street advocates do a better job of explaining and defining walkability and prodding entities like WalkScore, the Group Plan Commission and Land Studio, which carry much weight, to move beyond walkability to pedestrian friendliness?

The Fatally Flawed WalkScore
4 years ago

Car-Dependent, yet Shaker has the quickest, easiest, most frequent public transit connection to downtown (the region's largest employment center) of any of the suburbs and many of Cleveland's neighborhoods, making it one of the easiest places in the Cleveland region to live a car-light lifestyle? Seems like an odd assessment to me. WalkScore's flaw is that it assumes that if you are not walking, your only alternative is to drive, which in the case of Shaker is patently false. Also, it's always fun to look at the nearby amenities that WalkScore notes in its assessments (Great, a McDonald's is nearby, my location is walkable!). BTW, I wouldn't consider Cleveland Heights' score of 48.5 as "high."

4 years ago

I think you'd have to ask Walkscore if they think their methodology has a fatal flaw. After looking at it again, I could see taking issue with comparing Shaker to New York City and the top five transit scores in the country as the perfect 100 score which would naturally result in Shaker falling into a lower category. But Walkscore does drill down to specific neighborhoods like Avalon and Van Aken around the Rapid and gives them a 68 which is a pretty high score. Overall, it finds Shaker to be car dependent, and in my experience that rings true.

The Fatally Flawed WalkScore
4 years ago

Thanks, Marc, but David's response does not answer my question. To rephrase my question, has WalkScore identified its transit blind spot (and flaw it its methodology) and is it doing something to address that blind spot so it stops misleading those who might use its currently flawed service?

4 years ago

To quote David Beach the last time we posted about Walkscore and this same issue came up: "I agree that WalkScore can sometimes give silly results that don't take local conditions into account. That is the limitation of a ranking system that relies on national data. And it's why most national rankings ("The 10 best cities...") are so infuriating. But, in general, I think WalkScore has done a great job sensitizing people to the density of land uses as one important measure of walkability."

The Fatally Flawed Walkscore
4 years ago

Does Walkscore have any plans to address its transit blind spot --- i.e., it's failure to take into account the connection between transit and walkability? I work downtown and live in Shaker Heights, a short .3 mile walk to the rapid stop. I WALK to the rapid stop at the end of my street and take the the one-seat rapid ride to and from work nearly every workday, leaving my car in the garage during the week, and, yet, according to Walkscore I live in a "Car-Dependent" area. Until Walkscore addresses this fatal flaw to its approach in determining walkability, it shouldn't be taken seriously.

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