Virginia’s Lee Highway Alliance experiments with State of Place’s walkability analysis tool

Today is the National Day on Writing, which asks people to share why they write using #WhyIWrite. I started this blog in 2014 and wrote the following post because I’m passionate about opening people’s eyes to transportation issues that I also used to be blind to. Since Greater Greater Washington‘s staff helped me write this post so it could be posted on their blog, the structure is different from what I usually write on my blog.

The Lee Highway Alliance (LHA) in Arlington, Virginia is working to make the Lee Highway corridor more economically vibrant, walkable, and attractive. State of Place is helping them achieve their walkability goals. Walkability is simply a measure of how friendly a given place is to walking. People who live in highly walkable places see a slew of health, environmental, and financial benefits.

The Lee Highway corridor is located in north Arlington just north of the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor. Unlike the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, which helped Arlington win the Gold 2017 National Planning Achievement Award for Implementation, the Lee Highway corridor remains a primarily automobile-dependent, suburban-style place.

Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor Past-Present

Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor, past and present. Images by Arlington.

As is typical of most of the commercial corridors built throughout the country during the mid-to-late 20th century, the general development pattern of the Lee Highway corridor is low-rise commercial development with prominent surface parking lots and limited pedestrian, bicycle, and transit infrastructure.

It is a major automobile commuter corridor. In order to create the place that the LHA envisions, the Lee Highway corridor needs to become a place that prioritizes people and community over automobiles.

Since the LHA wants to provide people with healthy transportation choices and attract vibrant economic development, it hopes to improve the Lee Highway corridor through a new vision that includes distinct, walkable, mixed-use neighborhood centers.

Lee Highway Corridor Future Intensity

Proposed neighborhood centers showing a spectrum of density. Image by Arlington.

One of the proposed neighborhood centers, Lee Heights shopping center, is shown below:

Lee Heights Shopping Center Illustration

Illustrative concept for Lee Heights shopping center, existing and proposed. Image by Arlington.

There are many tools that cities or other planners use to determine how pedestrian-friendly an area is and how they can improve “walkability.”

So how do planners determine how walkable an area is?

You can see a walkability analysis in action in Virginia

Recently, LHA was one of six organizations across the US to win a five-block walkability analysis from State of Place, a software company that uses predictive analytics to quantify what people love about a given place.

State of Place uses ten urban design categories, such as density, connectivity, and traffic safety, to assess how walkable a block, a group of blocks, or an entire neighborhood is. During the past several months, they assessed the walkability of Lee Highway. Results will be presented to the public on Saturday, October 21 from 10am-12pm at the Lee Highway Alliance office, which is located at 4620 Lee Highway, Suite 208.

There are pros and cons to all walkability assessment tools

State of Place’s approach isn’t the only walkability assessment tool available. Another tool is called Walk Score, which provides a number on the 100-point scale that measures the walkability of any address.

Most cities use Walk Score, but State of Place walkability researcher Dr. Mariela Alfonzo says this tool tends to overestimate the walkability of high-access, low-income communities, among other problems.

Joe Cortright at City Observatory rebuked Alfonzo’s criticisms, saying State of Place’s metrics are highly complex, extremely labor intensive to gather, and consequently very expensive. Plus, they have not been implemented enough to let an objective third party assess their accuracy and utility.

While there is no perfect way to assess how walkable an area or city is, both tools are a great start to understanding how to improve the accessibility and livability of a given area.

Here’s how walkability scores are created

I’ve had the opportunity to personally use the State of Place tool to conduct a similar analysis in Tigard, Oregon last year. With help from three of my Master of Urban and Regional Planning classmates from Portland State University, we created neighborhood walkability assessments for the Tigard Triangle and Downtown Tigard.

Delta Planning Team with Client 2-10-16

Team of Master of Urban and Regional Planning students from Portland State University with client, Lloyd Purdy of Tigard, OR (left to right: Ray Atkinson, Curtis Fisher, Lloyd Purdy, Linn Davis, Wala Abuhejleh)

My team used the inventory tool to capture data on more than 280 built environment features, in ten urban design categories, that contribute to the walkability on every street segment in this area.

We underwent a rigorous training process where we practiced using the inventory tool in four different sample settings. Individual results from the four sample settings weren’t exact matches, so we understand our data collection in the Tigard Triangle and Downtown Triangle isn’t completely accurate. For example, one person could have felt safe walking on a street segment while another person didn’t feel safe walking on the same street segment.

We walked 74 street segments in the Tigard Triangle and 15 street segments in Downtown Tigard. The data was submitted to State of Place, who used their proprietary algorithm to generate an Index score for each segment on a 100-point scale. The results are shown below:

Downtown & Triangle SoP Index

State of Place Index for Tigard Triangle and Downtown Tigard

The index for the Tigard Triangle is 33 out of 100, a low walkability score meaning most trips require an automobile. For comparison, Downtown Tigard scored 66.

The profile breaks the index down into ten urban design categories that contribute to the walkability of the place, so cities can know where to prioritize walkability improvements. As the profile shows, the weakest category for the Tigard Triangle is lack of parks and public spaces.

State of Place Index & Profile Tigard Triangle

State of Place Index and Profile for Tigard Triangle

However, increasing parks and public spaces don’t do as much for walkability as adding density, pedestrian amenities, and traffic safety.

Since most cities have scarce resources, State of Place also provided the “Weighted by Impact and Feasibility (Walkability)” chart, shown below. Constructing a building is expensive and often depends on the private sector, so density isn’t the most feasible way to improve walkability.

Since the public sector has more control over adding pedestrian amenities and improving traffic safety, and the non-weighted profile shows these are weak in the Tigard Triangle, they are the most feasible ways to improve walkability in this place.

State of Place Prioritization Tigard Triangle

State of Place Prioritization Tigard Triangle2

State of Place charts for Tigard Triangle

The city used this data and my team’s recommendations to help create the Tigard Triangle Lean Code, which was adopted in August 2017. The lean code promotes building and site designs that improve walkability.

Tigard Triangle Lean Code

Tigard Triangle Lean Code. Image by Tigard.

If this analysis interests you, results from the Arlington walkability analysis will be presented to the public by State of Place on Saturday, October 21 from 10am-12pm at the Lee Highway Alliance office, which is located at 4620 Lee Highway, Suite 208. I plan to write a post with public reaction to the results.

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Great Falls Park Transportation History

I wasn’t planning to write a post about my trip to Great Falls Park today because I assumed all that I would see and learn about was Great Falls.

I quickly realized how Great Falls Park’s transportation history directly impacted my transportation options to reach Great Falls Park from Arlington, VA. The visitor center at Great Falls Park has an exhibit devoted to the Great Falls and Old Dominion Railroad, which used to operate a trolley from Georgetown in Washington, DC to Great Falls Park, so I enjoyed learning more about the railroad and trolley. The trolley, which is shown in the below map, was in operation from 1906 to 1932.

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Map shows trolley route from DC to Great Falls. Source: Wikipedia

While I was frustrated because I felt forced to drive to Great Falls Park today, I’m hopeful a new trolley system to Great Falls Park is built someday. Since the Great Falls Park parking lot was packed even in winter and many people in the DC region likely would prefer to leave their car at home, I assume a new trolley system would be successful. Surprisingly, the DC to Great Falls Park trolley line wasn’t originally built to take people from DC to Great Falls Park. Instead, the trolley line was built for people commuting from Fairfax County, VA, which is where Great Falls Park is located, to Washington, DC.

Since the trolley line wasn’t attracting enough customers on the weekend, the Great Falls and Old Dominion Railroad built the Great Falls Amusement Park, which had more amenities than the current park, to attract people to use the trolley line on the weekend. According to the visitor center exhibit, the Great Falls Amusement Park was a huge success and most people arrived by trolley. Since the trolley took 45 minutes and horse and buggy took 2 hours, I can see why the trolley was so popular. As is common with trolley systems throughout the US, automobiles proved to be faster and became more popular than trolleys so the DC to Great Falls trolley closed.

I realize a new trolley line isn’t coming anytime soon so I looked for other options to get to Great Falls Park. While I saw a group of training cyclists risking their lives on Old Dominion Drive, which is a curvy, two-lane rural road where they were biking, I wasn’t willing to risk my life biking on Old Dominion Drive so I’m thankful I chose to rent a car through Turo and drive to Great Falls Church. Since I used Getaround one time in Oregon to go hiking with Gerald and my dad used Turo to rent a car when he visited me in Portland for my graduation, I compared Getaround and Turo. I found more cars available in Arlington and cheaper cars through Turo so I rented a car through Turo. Yes, I drove a car for the first time today since driving from Kannapolis, NC to Charlotte during winter break in December 2015. I get very anxious when driving and feel more comfortable walking, biking, and riding transit so I’ve been trying to avoid driving.

Even though the rental car turned out to be useful, I didn’t originally get the rental car to go to Great Falls Park. I was originally planning to use the rental car to drive to Columbia, MD to meet Belita, who is a Nigerian (born and raised in Nigeria) woman I met through OkCupid. While normally I wouldn’t drive 80 miles round-trip to meet a woman, Belita lives in a famous planned community called Columbia, MD so I was already planning to visit Columbia someday. Having the opportunity to meet someone new, especially an attractive woman, is an added bonus. Plus, Belita offered to give me a personalized tour of her hometown and invited me to experience mass with her. If she gives me permission, I plan to interview her for a blog post about growing up in Nigeria, moving to the US, and her experience living in the planned community of Columbia. I’m looking forward to meeting Belita and visiting Columbia!

Eastside Cleveland at Eye Level

I have several Washington, DC region posts I want to write, but want to finish writing about my Cleveland vacation before returning to the Washington, DC region. As my previous Cleveland post discussed, I walked through some westside and downtown neighborhoods on Friday night. Since it was below freezing and I wasn’t sure how safe the neighborhoods are late at night, I rode the bus back to my Airbnb.

While the bus looked normal, I was shocked by how short Cleveland’s light rail trains are compared to DC’s light rail trains. I rode the Red Line, which is a light rail line, from the W65-Lorain Station to the Little Italy-University Circle Station. I almost missed getting on the train because I thought it would take up the whole station like it does in DC.

red-line

Cleveland’s Red Line from imgrum.net/tag/windmere

metro

DC’s Metro from flickr user Devin Westhause

I enjoy trying bike share anywhere I go so I looked for bike share after arriving at the Little Italy-University Circle Station. As the below map shows, Little Italy and University Circle have bike share stations.

cleveland-eastside-bike-share-map

After I found the below station, I was tempted to ride a bikeshare bike. Since I have a good paying job now and am a bike share consultant, I may have been too frugal but $21 for 3 hours plus one hour free (4 hours total) to use Cleveland’s bike share system felt too expensive. Capital Bikeshare is only $8 for 24 hours! Instead of riding bike share, I walked everywhere in Little Italy and University Circle.

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Little Italy

I was thoroughly impressed with the artwork at the Little Italy-University Circle Station. I have explored many transit stations throughout the US and many western and northern European countries. I can’t recall the last time that I took so many photos at a transit station. I guess I’m usually in a rush to catch a train so don’t always stop to take photos of the art. I was on vacation so was able to stop and enjoy the artwork this time. The below photo shows an inspirational sentence in two languages. One language is definitely English. Since the station is at the entrance to Little Italy, I assume the other language is Italian.

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I love murals because they usually show the community from the local’s viewpoint. Murals also bring the community together by providing locals an opportunity to work together to show pride in their neighborhood.

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It’s midnight and I want to publish this post tonight so I can move on to Washington, DC region posts. Here are a few more photos that you probably can only see by exploring Cleveland by eye level (not in a car).

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University Circle

As a pedestrian, I loved seeing CircleWalk in University Circle! CircleWalk is an interpretive walking experience that highlights and shares local stories.

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Here are more artistic and environmentally friendly design photos.

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Shaker Square

As the information kiosk shows, Shaker Square is a shopping district. However, it isn’t just any shopping district. I visited Shaker Square for a variety of reasons. The main reason is that Shaker Square is the oldest shopping district in Ohio and the second oldest in the US. Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, MO is the oldest shopping district in the US. Another major reason is I wanted to see how a suburban shopping district could be designed around a transit station.

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I enjoyed taking panoramas of Shaker Square so here are some of the panoramas I took. I walked through Dave’s Shaker Square Market. The market was full of Black people. I was the only White person in the market. Since I’m used to shopping at grocery stores full of White people, it felt weird to be the minority. Even though it felt weird, I was pleasantly surprised that no one in the market acted weird around me and no one asked me why I was at the market. We all just went about shopping for groceries like normal people. I can’t think of a grocery store in the US with diversity so I hope grocery stores in the US become more diverse.

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I don’t feel I have studied homelessness prevention and panhandling policies enough to make an informed opinion about the below sign so I’m just going to share it. I welcome you to share your opinion about the sign.

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Here are more artistic photos.

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Future Post: Sneckdowns

The Washington, DC region recently had snow so I looked for sneckdowns. Unfortunately, we only got about an inch of snow and the plows did a good job of clearing the roads so I will have to wait to write a post about sneckdowns in the Washington, DC region. In case you aren’t familiar with sneckdowns, here is a video.

Development History of Kannapolis

I want to start my coverage of Kannapolis, NC with its development history. This history should help provide context for why Kannapolis has developed the way it has and help readers understand my future posts. Kannapolis originally developed around Cannon Mills, which were known as the Largest Manufacturers of Towels in the World. These words were proudly displayed with a large sign that could be seen from the railroad.

Kannapolis Mill Town

Since Kannapolis was a mill town before being altered by the North Carolina Research Campus, it originally developed around the needs of the mill workers. “All aspects of life, from housing to road infrastructure to recreation and services, centered around mill operations.” During its time as a mill town and before its incorporation in 1984, the needs of Kannapolis were provided by the Cannon family, which owned Cannon Mills. This all changed in 1984 when “the citizens of Kannapolis voted to incorporate, transforming the largest unincorporated ara in the United States into the 16th largest city in North Carolina.”

In some ways, Kannapolis never really changed after its incorporation because most of downtown Kannapolis is owned and developed through a public-private partnership called the North Carolina Research Campus. As the below photo shows, which is from the Kannapolis Center City Master Plan, this has resulted in Kannapolis having at least two major developers. The North Carolina Research Campus is working to develop its campus in downtown Kannapolis and the City of Kannapolis is working to develop Kannapolis as a whole.

Kannapolis City Owned Property

Now that you know the development history of Kannapolis, I will begin posting about how Kannapolis’ current development is impacting its livability. While I plan to discuss many aspects of livability, my focus will be on how well Kannapolis provides safe and convenient transportation choices. In order to facilitate this discussion, I plan to show how safe or unsafe the roads in Kannapolis are for pedestrians, cyclists, transit users, and motorists. Along with the unsafe examples, I plan to discuss what Kannapolis is doing to make the roads safer for all road users. I truly appreciate all the work that the City of Kannapolis, Concord Kannapolis Area Transit, Cabarrus Rowan Metropolitan Planning Organization, Centralina Council of Governments, North Carolina Department of Transportation, and many Kannapolis residents and visitors are doing to make Kannapolis roads safer for all road users. This topic was inspired by Smart Growth America’s Dangerous by Design 2014, which was released today.