City has work to do on walkability

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.

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.