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Cleveland's best places to live car-lite

Marc Lefkowitz  |  11/17/14 @ 4:00pm  |  Posted in Biking, Transit, Walking

After we wrote a blog post about four families living “car-lite” in Cleveland, we began thinking about the places in Northeast Ohio that provide the right ingredients for car-lite living. See our list of the top 25 car-lite places below, and tell us if there are others you would add.

Lower Euclid<br />Mayfield and Euclid<br />Professor Avenue<br />Market District<br />Gordon Square<br />Little Italy<br />

Primarily using the free, online tool WalkScore, we compiled the following survey of Northeast Ohio places where it is possible to live with less dependence on a car. Also, we spoke to an urban planner who takes meticulous care in selecting a neighborhood that supports his choice to live car lite.

Place / Average Walk + Transit Score

  1. E. 9th and Euclid (Downtown Cleveland)—86
  2. W. 25th and Lorain (Market District)—80.5
  3. Mayfield and Euclid (University Circle)—74.5
  4. Mayfield and Murray Hill (Little Italy)—72
  5. W. 65th and Detroit (Gordon Square)—71
  6. Shaker Square/Larchmere—70
  7. E. 22nd and Central (Campus District)—69.5
  8. Madison and Quail (Birdtown/Lakewood)—66
  9. Detroit and W. 117th (CLE/Lakewood)—66
  10. Literary and Professor (Tremont)—63.5
  11. Van Aken-Lee (Shaker Hts.)—63
  12. Warrensville and Van Aken (Shaker)—61.5
  13. Cedar-Lee (Cleveland Heights)—56.5
  14. Lakewood’s West End (@Rocky River border)—56.5
  15. Kamm’s Corner (Lorain and Rocky River Dr)—56.5
  16. Detroit and Wright (Rocky River)—56
  17. E. 65th Street and Fleet Avenue (Slavic Village)—56
  18. Superior-East Boulevard (Glenville)—54.5
  19. Cedar and Warrensville (University Heights/S. Euclid)—52.5
  20. Pearl and State (Old Brooklyn)—52
  21. St. Clair and E. 66th Street—52
  22. E. 185th and Euclid—50
  23. Broadway Avenue and Center Road (Bedford)—44.5
  24. Chagrin Boulevard and Brainard Road (Woodmere)—40
  25. S. Main St. and E. Washington St. (Chagrin Falls)—30

We found that place matters. A lot. By that we mean the physical characteristics of a place—shorter blocks, density, a mix of uses, and details like crosswalks and sidewalks—can encourage more walking.

“Getting a high score requires depth of choice,” WalkScore explains. “For example, the ability to walk to a large number of restaurants.”

How about where WalkScore considers Northeast Ohio “Somewhat Walkable” (meaning some but not all errands can be made on foot)—should we include them in the conversation? For example, Dover Center and Wolf Road in Bay Village (WalkScore: 59) or Waterloo in Collinwood (62 WalkScore; 61 Bike Score). Or Cleveland Heights which scores a 49 (considered Car Dependent) even though the half-mile surrounding its commercial districts—like Cedar-Lee (78 WalkScore)— score very high.

What it reveals: If you move even a mile away, it can make a world of difference.

To bring some more perspective to the conversation, we spoke to NOACA Senior Environmental Planner, Dr. Joe MacDonald who does a thorough analysis of where he is able to live car lite, including two stints in Cleveland with a stay in Washington, D.C. between.

MacDonald has questions about WalkScore, which certainly has its share of critics (who call it too broad or opaque in how it gives points).

“A WalkScore does really come down to that specific place and what you need,” comments MacDonald, who recently purchased a house inside a ten-minute walk of a Blue Line Rapid station and the shopping district at Warrensville and Van Aken.

WalkScore might be stronger if it revealed how it assigns points or measures transit’s ability to connect to more options—like the airport or work, he says. As it is, it can narrow the field, says MacDonald who prefers to get his feet on the street and speak to professionals to help him groundtruth the score.

“I wanted to be able to move around without having to rely on a car,” he says. “I didn’t use WalkScore, not that it isn’t worthwhile. I have a good sense of place, and I can see for myself if I would be able to experience a walkable environment.”

MacDonald’s approach to finding a place to live starts with what is available within walking distance of work. Knowing that he would have to check into an office everyday in downtown Cleveland, combined with a willingness to take transit, opened up his options to places within a ten minute/half-mile walk of a transit line. His deal breakers include a full-service grocer and pharmacy within walking distance. Extra points go for a barber, dry cleaner, hardware store, a park and a house of worship in that zone.

For his second tour of duty in Cleveland, MacDonald wanted to buy, which pulled his search away from downtown and toward the city of Lakewood, Cleveland and Shaker Heights along the Blue Line corridor.

“I could see the potential of the Blue Line,” he said. “Transit is important, especially when talking about connecting neighborhoods. There’s Shaker Square and downtown. I would be connected to all of that without needing a car. I love the train. It’s a lot of fun for me. I didn’t focus as much on the time spent on the train. I read. I respond to emails.”

Soon, he was calling Shaker Heights City Hall and meeting with its planning department. He asked if the city had plans to improve the retail and housing options and the walking conditions along the Blue Line. That’s when he learned about projects like a new Rapid station at Van Aken and Lee Road and a massive undertaking to redesign the Warrensville-Van Aken area into a more pedestrianized zone.

“I wanted to understand what was going to happen, what may be coming,” he said. “The area around Warrensville is only going to be more walkable. That the future WalkScore will be higher was influential. The goal for the development is to interconnect and weave together these neighborhoods so that people feel this is their community and have a strong sense of connection and feel safe moving about within it.”

For this exercise, we drilled down into neighborhoods to pinpoint town centers such as Mayfield and Murray Hill in Little Italy or Literary and Professor in Tremont. We took an average of their Walk- and Transit- Scores. We also included where available BikeScore. There’s also column in our spreadsheet that looks at the cost of transportation using the Center for Neighborhood Technology’s Housing + Transportation Index, but we didn’t use cost when compiling the final list which is focused on proximity and access. This list represents only a SAMPLE of places that score high for car-lite living. Let us know what you think are the best places to live car lite.

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6 years ago

Don't overlook Kent, a truly walkable, bikable and bus-serviced small town. We moved here, ditched a car and those were the primary reasons. The core city has very affordable and diverse housing within blocks of downtown and most essentials.

7 years ago

@Austin - thanks for your comment. As you point out, the biggest shortfall to using TransitScore is not knowing their methodology for calculating points. We are left in the dark about what beyond transit's proximity and frequency earns points, or if, in its proprietary algorithm, there's an accounting for transit connections to center of employment, and how direct those links are. Like MacDonald, I wouldn't rely solely on Walk and Transit Score, but it's an interesting place to start comparing places.

7 years ago

WalkScore's apparent exclusion of proximity to transit (especially transit that offers relatively frequent, one-seat transportation to the region's main employment and entertainment center) in its calculus seems to severely limit its usefulness as a determinant of walkability. I think that this is especially the case when, for many if not most people, their work commute accounts for a large chunk of their motor vehicle miles driven.

7 years ago

@Julie -- good point about how sometimes the basic amenities can all be there even in a place where we don't immediately assume is walkable.

@Austin -- TransitScore takes into account how close and how frequent is transit from your location. But, it is unclear if it measures how many other places /amenities you can connect to.

7 years ago

Does walkscore take into account proximity to transit and the quality of nearby transit (i.e., the frequency of the transit and one-seat destinations along that transit) in assigning a walkscore to a location?

7 years ago

Some areas seem more thoroughly researched than others. I live near Cedar and Warrensville, which lacks for transit and bikeability scores. With the 41 at my doorstep, the Shaker Rapid and the 32 close by, I have multiple transit options. I use my bicycle most frequently to run errands. Bikeability could be improved by signage such as Shaker Bouevards, where drivers are instructed "[bike icon] may use full lane. Change lanes to pass" (greatest road signage ever!) on the main roads. I feel the walkability score is unfairly low. I have a grocery, pharmacy, barber, coffee shop, Target, and Geraci's all steps away. Ever since I lived car-free for two years in grad school, my priority has been to live somewhere where I could get by without a car for two weeks. Cedar-Warrensville meets that criteria. Yes, it's boring and not as trendy as Cedar-Lee, so while my entertainment options are fewer, my more mundane needs such as groceries and housewares, are more easily met where I am.

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