Monday, January 3, 2011
Where are the walkable neighborhoods in Florida?
The website Walk Score, a website that calculates how walkable a home, neighborhood or city is on a scale of zero to 100, has just expanded its coverage from the 40 largest US cities to 2,500 US cities. So, for the first time we have insights into how walkable 149 of the largest cities in Florida are.
Included in this list are Cape Coral, Fort Myers, and Bonita Springs. Fort Myers' score is about the Florida average (47 vs. 45 for FL), while both Cape Coral and Bonita Springs are at the low end (31 and 30 respectively).
The most walkable cities in Florida were in South Florida, and were featured in the below article in the January 2nd South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
Walkable neighborhoods can be found in Palm and Broward counties
Las Olas in Fort Lauderdale and Clematis in West Palm Beach are walker's paradise
By Angel Streeter, Sun Sentinel
4:13 PM EST, January 2, 2011
South Florida is suburban sprawl and jam-packed, eight-lane roads and highways.
If you need to go somewhere — the grocery store, dry cleaners, post office, drug store — you're more than likely getting there by automobile.
Except for those living in a few South Florida communities that buck the trend, where getting around by foot is easily done. They may not be as plentiful as gated communities, but there are some walkable neighborhoods in South Florida.
Wilton Manors is one of the most walkable cities in South Florida. But neighborhoods in the heart of Fort Lauderdale would be a joy to any walker.
And downtown West Palm Beach and Mizner Park in downtown Boca Raton are a walker's paradise.
That's according to Walk Score, a website that calculates how walkable a home, neighborhood or city is on a scale of zero to 100. The site calculates whether you are within walking distance — about a quarter of a mile to a mile — to daily necessities, if you can accomplish many daily errands by walking.
Until recently, the company provided walk scores for only neighborhoods in the 40 largest U.S. cities. Last month, the site began offering neighborhood rankings in 2,500 U.S. cities, now providing insight on just how walkable South Florida is.
" Florida does have a reputation for not being particularly walkable," said Matt Lerner, Walk Score's chief technology officer. "But every city has walkable areas. In South Florida, we found some really walkable areas… The older parts (of a city) tend to be nice and walkable."
In Broward County, Flagler Village, Victoria Park and downtown Fort Lauderdale get high marks.
In Palm Beach County, those inclined to grab a pair of comfortable shoes instead of car keys have a few options. Standout neighborhoods include El Cid, Grandview Heights and Flamingo Park in West Palm Beach along with downtown Delray Beach.
The counties' western cities scored poorly on the walkability scale. About 80 percent of Wellington residents and 71 percent of Miramar residents live in car-dependent neighborhoods, according to Walk Score.
"It's great to have everything within walking distance," said Rick Rose who lives in Grandview Heights and owns a bed and breakfast there.
From the historic neighborhood, he regularly walks to City Place, the movie theater, restaurants and the waterfront.
It's a lifestyle choice, he said. When he moved back to Florida after living in Europe for years, he eschewed the suburban life. He sold his mother's Wellington home and set up shop in Grandview Heights as downtown West Palm Beach was experiencing a revival with City Place on the horizon.
The neighborhood is a mix of bungalows, renovated older homes and townhouses along shady, narrow streets.
It was a prime location for Rose's bed and breakfast. Having a place that was within walking distance to shopping, the arts and entertainment was necessary to appeal to tourists, he said.
He sees more people embracing walkable communities.
"The population in downtown has grown so much in the last few years," he said. "People are rediscovering the community and being able to walk to get a gallon of milk."
A revived Flagler Village in Fort Lauderdale also has introduced new people to walking as a viable option.
Twin sisters Jenna and Janna Stimson recently moved into new apartment buildings in the neighborhood just north of downtown. The main reason was to be close to where they spend a lot of their time.
"The cab rides got too expensive," said Jenna Stimson.
The city's night life was a big draw for the sisters who recently graduated from Nova Southeastern University.
But with their proximity to so many things, they often find themselves leaving their car behind and walking to the beach, restaurants and the grocery store.
Still, there are some issues with these communities identified by Walk Score. Some lack the infrastructure that would make them pedestrian friendly.
Critics of Walk Score point out that the site doesn't consider things like sidewalks, crosswalks and busy streets in its calculations.
All of those can influence whether people will walk to a destination.
Robert McMillan, a retiree, lives in the same neighborhood as the Stimson sisters, but he won't walk to a Winn-Dixie that's about a block away. That would require crossing busy Federal Highway.
That's why Michael Ferber, a longtime Flagler Village resident, says the neighborhood is only "starting to be" one of the most walkable in the city. That's because nice sidewalks and shade trees are only serving new developments. Walk a block away from them and there are no sidewalks.
Jim Smith, chairman of Safety as Floridians Expect that advocates for pedestrians and bicyclists, lives near a neighborhood in Delray Beach off Linton Boulevard that Walk Score gives a high score for being walkable.
But Smith gives his community a middling grade because of the lack of sidewalks.
"When I come out of my condo, I have to cross the street," he said. "And when the sidewalk ends, I have to cross again."
For a community to be walkable, it needs wide sidewalks, plenty of shade and safe crossings for pedestrians, Smith said.
"If there is no sidewalk in front of your house, people won't walk at all," he said.
Lerner of Walk Score concedes that the company could do better by including the walking environment in its calculations. The site hopes to launch another service soon called Street Smart Walk Score that considers those elements.
That's because more people are embracing the walkable lifestyle and want more information on where they can find a walkable community.
"Right now a lot of people are looking for houses that are walkable," he said. "A lot of young people today want something different from the suburbs. Empty nesters are looking for more walkable neighborhoods."
Angel Streeter can be reached at astreeter@SunSentinel.com or 561-243-6537.
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