Several years ago Walk Score.com named Charlottesville the Most Walkable City in the Commonwealth of Virginia. What exactly does that mean?
“A Walk Score,” explains REALTOR ® Jim Duncan of Nest Realty, “is a ranking algorithm for a home and it depends on pretty much everything people want to walk to—grocery stores, entertainment, schools, restaurants, you name it. The idea was developed quite a few years ago and is now becoming more popular.”
According to the Walk Score.com website, its mission is to promote walkable neighborhoods. “Walkable neighborhoods are one of the simplest and best solutions for the environment, our health, and our economy,” they say. “We believe that walkable neighborhoods with access to public transit, better commutes, and proximity to the people and places you love are the key to a happier, healthier and more sustainable lifestyle.”
Anyone can plug in any street address in the country and be shown a walkability score from 0 to 100. Part of Walk Score.com’s effort is aimed at the real estate and apartment rental markets. “Our vision is for every property listing to read: Beds: 3 Baths: 2 Walk Score: 84,” the website continues. ”We want to make it easy for people to evaluate walkability and transportation when choosing where to live.”
“Studies show the higher the walk score the more valuable a property is to buyers,” Duncan, the REALTOR, continues. “People see this walkability as a desirable part of enjoying a home because it allows them to save money because they’re not spending it on gas and maintenance.” It also avoids time wasted sitting in traffic.
Janice Kavanagh, an Associate Broker with Nest Realty, is a good example of someone who deliberately chose walkability when she moved to Charlottesville. “I’d lived in Boston,” she says, “and when I came here, I opted to be in Belmont because it’s so close to downtown. I can walk to work, to entertainment, to restaurants and coffee shops.”
She notes that many area neighborhoods are aiming to become walkable. “There are vacant lots around town being bought up to put a couple houses on,” she says. “These little ‘pocket communities’ are selling well.”
Another example she mentions is the 24 single-family homes going in along Water Street near the new City Walk apartments. Those apartments are part of the high-density living choices, also including condominiums, being built within walking distance of the Downtown Mall.
“Another sign of this close-in desirability,” Kavanagh continues, “is that quite a few homes in the Belmont area are on the market for just a few days before they receive multiple offers.”
How does the Charlottesville region measure up for walkability?
Walkability varies greatly in our area. For example, Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall is deemed a “walker’s paradise” with a Walk Score of 100 out of 100, meaning daily errands can be run without a car.
Keswick, on the other hand, has a Walk Score of 6 out of 100 meaning the location is a car-dependent neighborhood with almost all errands requiring a car.
The city of Charlottesville is launching a major effort to build new loop trails for walking and biking as well as longer connections between parks, schools, and other public places. The 2014 Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan Update is the next phase of increasing and enhancing bicycle, pedestrian and multi-use trail connections within the city and can be viewed at HYPERLINK “http://www.Charlottesville.org” www.Charlottesville.org.
The city is also upgrading a number of crosswalks with specific signage and lights embedded in the pavement to alert drivers. “I really like these light-flicker cross walks,” declares Wes Carr, a REALTOR ® with Bill May Realty. “More than once I haven’t seen someone because it’s dark or raining, but I stopped for those flickering lights. It’s the greatest thing that Charlottesville does for safe walking.”
There’s walkability, then there’s simply walking
Apart from the Walk Score for a home, there is also just plain walking for health, recreation, and keeping the dog happy. Many developments which are too far from shopping, schools, and other destinations to have a high Walk Score, are still eminently walkable. They may have sidewalks, pathways, play areas, or even dog parks which are good for walking. Neighborhood schools are another option for walking, including some facilities with tracks.
In some cases, developments include dedicated walking paths and trails with markers or notations indicating distance traveled. Others, such as Foxcroft just south of Charlottesville, have their own walking trails and often these connect to an extended trail network. Foxcroft’s own trails, for example, meet up with the Biscuit Run Trail, a somewhat rough, unpaved byway used by walkers and bicyclists. This trail runs behind the Mill Creek neighborhood north under I-64 to meet the Rivanna Trail at the Bent Creek Road Bridge off Fifth Street Extended.
Many other developments make a point to have walking paths within their grounds and to connect to nearby paths and trails. In the Pantops area, for example, Ashcroft has a number of walking trails. Although not open to the public, the Glenmore development east of Charlottesville offers its residents many trails for walking, biking and horseback riding.
One of the many reasons Charlottesville is a nice place to live is its well known reputation as a health-conscious city and this is definitely reflected in the number of people walking all around town.
Marilyn Pribus and her husband live in Albemarle County near Charlottesville. Their home address has a Walk Score of 12, but they walk on the adjacent Biscuit Run Trail with their dog almost every day.