So, yet another pedestrian walkability study has given Charlotte bottom-of-the-barrel ratings.
It seems to be a regular thing nowadays. The latest confirmation comes in the form of a new study from Smart Growth America, a group that hopes to nudge communities toward making environmentally sustainable choices about how they grow and develop.
The study, released in the December issue of AARP Bulletin, ranks the Charlotte-Gastonia-Concord metro area 10th worst in the country for pedestrians.
At least that’s better than the ranking we received a few months earlier from the national Walk Score pedestrian study, which awarded Charlotte its lowest rating among large cities.
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It perhaps shouldn’t be surprising that we fare so poorly on such studies, given that much of the city’s development in recent decades has involved building far-flung suburbs designed for access by car, not by foot or bike or public transportation.
Thankfully, local officials are pivoting toward a more enlightened approach. Voter-approved infrastructure bonds will soon bring $20 million worth of neighborhood improvements, including sidewalks, curbs and new streetscapes in areas such as Beatties Ford Road, near the old Eastland Mall and Whitehall/Arysley.
About $5 million is earmarked for a new multi-use trail linking greenways throughout the county. And the Charlotte Department of Transportation’s Charlotte Walks initiative aims to coordinate the city’s walkability and pedestrian safety efforts into a better-focused plan of action.
Among its preliminary recommendations: safer and more frequent pedestrian crossings, replacing back-of-curb sidewalks along busy streets and reviewing regulations for sidewalk construction in new development. (That last one could test just how serious our traditionally developer-friendly city is about putting better sidewalks into new projects).
Transportation policy in Charlotte from 1950 to 2000 was simple, as a slide from a recent staff presentation to City Council’s transportation and planning committee points out. We tried to move as many cars as fast as we could to accommodate a quadrupling population base.
“We forgot about walkability,” the slide adds. Bold lettering highlights this admirably frank acknowledgment.
So now we play catch-up. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another 50 years to get our walkability rankings off the bottom of the barrel.