Thursday, May 5, 2011

Defining Baltimore's 20-Minute Neighborhoods

Just how walkable is Baltimore? The map below was created by which shows the relative degree of walkability within Baltimore City. Walkscore has been around for a few years and is a fairly accurate indicator of how pedestrian friendly a place is. Walkscore measures how many destinations and amenities - such as grocery stores, banks, post offices, schools, etc - are within walking distance of any address.

The "heat map" generated below for Baltimore (and also available for other incorporated areas of Maryland and metro areas throughout the US) show a revealing portrait of where walkability exists..and doesn't. A clear pattern emerges from the map that reveals the most intense walkable "hot spots" (shown in green), emanating from Downtown Baltimore. Downtown itself, and surrounding close-in neighborhoods such as Mt. Vernon, Federal Hill, Fells Point, Highlandtown, Charles Village, Pigtown, and Hampden all show as very walkable.

Yet, there are also large swaths of the city that, despite the presence of sidewalks and pedestrian-friendly street patterns, lack the mix of uses or amenities that provide the incentive or reasons to walk.

So, what does Walkscore tell us about where 20-Minute Neighborhoods in Baltimore are (or could be)? Walkscore shows the relative degree of things available to walk to, and this is one of the essential ingredients in the 20-Minute Neighborhood concept and an important part of what makes a place livable.

Walkscore does have its limitations, however. The current Walkscore methodology does not take into account street design or urban design factors that affect the quality of the pedestrian environment. Despite this, it's still a good surrogate and starting point for showing where existing 20-Minute Neighborhoods are. An improved version of Walkscore, called Street Smart Walk Score, is being beta tested, which provides a more accurate picture of walkability to include true street routing to destinations (as opposed to the current "crow-fly" method) and analysis of "intersection density" which provides a relative indication of pedestrian friendly street networks. also recently added Transit Score, which calculates the relative transit-friendliness of an address based on its proximity to transit stops. Bike Score is also reportedly in the works.

Applying Transit Score to a particular address in conjunction with Walkscore may provide some additional insight, but it only tells us where transit is available - not how frequent, well-connected, or far it is from job centers, destinations, and other amenities. What is perhaps more useful is to overlay the Walkscore heat map with the "frequent transit" Map we provided at the workshop (and shown in the previous blog post) as shown here:

This gives a pretty clear view of where walkable neighborhoods are in relation to frequent transit routes (what we've previously referred to as a potential Primary Transit Network). While there is some alignment between the frequent transit and walkable neighborhoods, particularly in the downtown core and immediate surrounding area, it also shows that there a walkable neighborhoods that aren't served by frequent transit service, and also that many areas that are served by frequent transit service are not very walkable. This can be useful in identifying opportunities for 20-Minute Neighborhoods.

Once Bike Score comes on line, it will be very interesting to see what kind of patterns emerge.

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