Walkscore.com has released their rankings of America’s Most Walkable Cities. My expectations for OKC on something like this are never very high, but I always hope we at least finish somewhere respectable and not in the bottom five (as the top and bottom five it seems is always what gets published). Unfortunately, by tying Memphis for 35th we barely missed escaping the bottom five and the resulting terrible publicity. I mean, can you believe we get beat by cities like Houston and Detroit?
MOST AND LEAST WALKABLE CITIES (with walkability score)
1. San Francisco: 86
2. New York: 83
3. Boston: 79
4. Chicago: 76
5. Philadelphia: 74
35. TIE – Oklahoma City and Memphis: 43
37. Indianapolis: 42
38. Charlotte: 39
39. Nashville: 39
40. Jacksonville: 36
To make matters worse, the San Francisco Chronicle let Memphis off the hook – by listing Oklahoma City alone in the bottom five with an asterisk – and then displayed the information in such an unintuitive order that Oklahoma City actually looks like it finished dead last. Check out the article and see what I mean.
ABOUT THE METHOD OF ANALYSIS
In reality, Walkscore’s method of analysis has a number of flaws – many of which I find to be fatal. To their credit, they are the first to admit these weaknesses. Here is what they have to say.
There are a number of factors that contribute to walkability that are not part of our algorithm:
- Public transit: Good public transit is important for walkable neighborhoods.
- Street width and block length: Narrow streets slow down traffic. Short blocks provide more routes to the same destination and make it easier to take a direct route.
- Street design: Sidewalks and safe crossings are essential to walkability. Appropriate automobile speeds, trees, and other features also help.
- Safety from crime and crashes: How much crime is in the neighborhood? How many traffic accidents are there? Are streets well-lit?
- Pedestrian-friendly community design: Are buildings close to the sidewalk with parking in back? Are destinations clustered together?
- Topography: Hills can make walking difficult, especially if you’re carrying groceries.
- Freeways and bodies of water: Freeways can divide neighborhoods. Swimming is harder than walking
- Weather: In some places it’s just too hot or cold to walk regularly
I bet San Francisco is glad they didn’t include topography…ehh? What all this means is that their “algorithm” simply measure’s the proximity of amenities from a given point. So anything within 1/4-mile of a mall would receive the highest rating and while it is true that malls are incredibly walkable (when you are inside), it is not true that malls create walkable neighborhoods – in fact, it is quite the opposite when surrounded by parking. This is also true of densely lined retail arterials like May Avenue. While they certainly provide access to a number of retailers and amenities within a short range of distance, very few people would actually walk from shopping center to shopping center and consider the experience enjoyable. A few better ways to measure walkability in my opinion would either attempt to include measures for the elements listed above or would simply count the number of people actually walking. Afterall, what good is “walkability” if no one walks? But what do you do if it is “bad walkability” and everyone walks? Either way, it gets very complicated very quickly for a range of issues that we can tackle at a later date.
OKLAHOMA CITY WALKABILITY
Walkscore had these interesting facts to share about walkability in Oklahoma City:
- 8% of Oklahoma City residents have a Walk Score of 70 or above.
- 40% have a Walk Score of at least 50
- and 60% live in Car-Dependent neighborhoods
Despite the flaws of the analysis, the map produced by their rating system is still interesting to study.
It might be helpful if we wanted to select areas of the city that would benefit most from pedestrian improvements, more residential density, and/or strategies for creating viable urban environments. It also might make sense for the greenest areas to serve as primary nodes in a transportation system as access to these nodes would theoretically provide access to a wide range of amenities.
MY CURRENT NEIGHBORHOOD
As some of you know, I am currently living in Boston studying planning and urban design. My wife and I sold our cars before moving into a small apartment in Boston’s Back Bay. My school is 1.5 miles from our place and I can get to school in one of three ways: walking, biking, or riding public-transit. I pretty much make this decision based on weather (often terrible here) and how much time I have (biking is fastest by far). We also regularly walk to stores, walk to dinner, or walk to church. And walking here is great, it is literally a textbook example of pedestrian-friendly using Gehl’s criteria. It has historic buildings, a variety of stores and restaurant, sidewalk dining, lots of people, etc…
Still, I am not going to say that life without a car is easy – its not. That is not the point. The point is that life with walking is great!
Of course people will continue to have cars in Oklahoma City – as do most of the people in Greater Boston – but we should not let all of our decisions be so skewed towards an auto-centric city that it ruins any prospect of a walking lifestyle – whether it is out of necessity or by choice.
So where does my current residence stack up on the walkability score? Very Good. It is actually the #1 most walkable neighborhood in the #3 most walkable city.
At some point in the future I will talk more about the Back Bay and what I have learned about urbanity from the time I have spent here. But that will have to wait, because over the next few weeks I am going to be working on a five part series focused on an upcoming development in Downtown Oklahoma City and the incredible opportunity it provides for the city – but only if we decide to do it right! I still have to do some more research and a lot more work. But hopefully it will be worth the wait.
For now, I just want everyone to know that I really appreciate you reading. If you have any ideas of stuff that you would like to discuss in the future, please let me know. I will try to get a little discussion going by asking a simple question:
When was the last time you walked from your house to purchase something from a store?
…and an ice-cream truck does not count.