By Marilyn Pribus –
These days, people shopping for a new abode often have “walkability” close to the top of their list of wants. Especially as gas prices are again on the rise, the thought of not having to get out the car keys to go places you want to go is appealing.
Walkability basically means an area has safe pedestrian routes to shopping, schools, entertainment, and reliable public transportation. It’s also come to represent knowing your neighbors and having positive health benefits.
Being able to leave cars at home reduces air pollution in the community. In addition, some studies reveal decreased incidence of obesity and diabetes in highly walkable neighborhoods.
Both homeowners and small businesses find walkable communities desirable and this is often reflected in higher property values and higher tax income for the community.
An Internet service called Walk Score calculates the walkability of addresses across the country on a scale of 0 to 100. It has shown that each additional point can increase a home’s value by as much as $3,000. Visit the site at walkscore.com to enter an address and see its “walkability” score.
Some local neighborhood scores include:
Historic Downtown Mall 99
Woolen Mills 41
Fry’s Spring 36
Lake Monticello 1
The popularity of walkable communities is expected to increase as more millennials move into the real estate market and retirees relocate from the suburbs to close-in urban settings.
Case in point: When Kay (who prefers we don’t use her last name) was widowed last year, she sold her Pantops home of many years (with a walkability index of 0) and sublet a condo apartment near the Courthouse as a trial to see how she liked urban living. She reports she’s happy she did it and plans to stay downtown.
“I don’t have to cope with traffic,” she declares, then counts off on her fingers, “I can walk to my fitness club, the drug store, the bank, the library, the post office, book stores, the movies, the food market, and restaurants to satisfy every ethnic taste.” She pauses, then adds, “Plus all sorts of activities. You can walk to church or synagogue. I really like it.”
She also appreciates the bus service available virtually at her door. “I can go to all parts of the city and even the Amtrak station when it’s time to visit family in New York.”
Charlottesville Has Been Planning
Now all this is not news to Charlottesville. In fact, city planners developed a Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan fifteen years ago.
This master plan sets forth thirteen goals including reducing reliance on vehicles and expensive parking lots, coordinating with other bicycle facilities and trail efforts, and protecting and completing the Rivanna Trails Foundation trails system. Detailed information can be found at Charlottesville.org.
More recently, the City Council passed the 2015 Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan which is the guiding document for bicycle, pedestrian, and multi-use trail connections in the City.
It focuses on integrating the on-street and off-street networks identified in past planning efforts to create non-automobile transportation corridors that will appeal to a wide range of users of all abilities. User safety is an important overall component of the plan.
One example of increased pedestrian safety is the installation of flashing-light crosswalks in busy traffic areas such as the ones on Ninth Street at the Belmont Bridge and between the intersection of McIntire Road and Preston Avenue and the Federal Courthouse.
Another example of pedestrian and bicycle safety is provided in Albemarle County where the recently constructed Berkmar Drive Extended parallels the very busy Route 29 and includes a paved pedestrian and biking path.
A third example is Lochlyn Hill Green, a mixed income neighborhood which has specific connections to Charlottesville’s greenway system leading to Charlottesville High School, the Meadowcreek Parkway Trail, and the Rivanna Trails System.
In fact, Charlottesville’s overall walkability is markedly improved by its trail systems. This includes loops for walking and biking in city parks and also longer connections between parks, schools, and other public spaces. There are about 30 miles of nature trails plus approximately six miles of paved trails which are accessible for persons using mobility devices. Visit Charlottesville.org for more trail information including Riverview Park, Meade Park, McIntire Park, John Warner Parkway and others. A trail map can be downloaded from the website.
The University of Virginia also has a master plan to make it easier and safer for students and staff to walk and bike between the North and Central Grounds.
The Bottom Line
Walkability was high on the list for Meg and Richard Zakin who recently put their Ivy area house (walkability 0) on the market and have met with a builder to lay plans for their new downtown home, which should be completed by early 2019.
“We are thrilled to know we’ll be in walking distance to the Downtown Mall and to Belmont,” she says. “I know we’ll take better advantage of all the cultural activities that downtown Charlottesville has to offer. A number of our friends live in town and it will be so nice to meet them for dinner or a concert and we’ll all be able to walk home.”
Marilyn Pribus and her husband live in Albemarle County. Their address has a walkability index of 0 when it comes to shopping, schools, and mass transit, however there is good walking within their neighborhood and in the Biscuit Run area behind their home.