Cool Link of the Day: Urb-I Urban Ideas

I saw this site mentioned on the CityLab site awhile back and thought it was a very cool idea. The site highlights how cities are transforming public spaces and making car-centric areas much more pedestrian, bike and transit friendly. Since I found the site, I have been lucky enough to become a regular contributor working to help make the site even better. The great thing is that anyone can send in before and after photos from their own cities of public space transformations. Take a look: http://www.urb-i.com/ The site covers cities across the world.

Columbus has several examples that I have added, but the photos are not yet updated on the site’s map. Until they are, here is a sneak peek:

Civic Center Drive

West Town Street

Columbus Commons

Failed Project #3: The 1984-1985 High Street Road Diet

Believe it or not, 32 years ago and long before the urban revival began in earnest, a paid study of High Street in 1984 by a Barton-Aschman Associates of Washington, DC, made the ahead-of-its-time suggestion of a road diet of High Street through Downtown.  High Street had been studied over and over again since 1972 in order to figure out how to reduce traffic, but this was the most radical one to come out of them all- at least until 2010.

When the 1984 study was released, it contained the following suggestions:
-Reducing High from 6 lanes to 4.
-Restricting traffic to buses, taxis and emergency vehicles Monday-Friday from 7am-6:30PM.
-Rebuilding the street to include pedestrian/bike friendly infrastructure and new landscaping.
-A new transit mall.
The changes would’ve included 11 blocks between Fulton Street and Nationwide Boulevard.

Inexplicably, the $25 million plan was endorsed by just about everyone at first, from the City of Columbus, COTA, local business owners, the Chamber of Commerce and other community leaders. There was even funding for it, through a mix from COTA and the US Urban Mass Transit Association. The plan was hailed as transformative and was thought to be a plan to create a “world-class” street. At the time, very few cities had done anything like this.

But then what always seems to happen in Columbus… happened again. Slowly, opposition built up. First, city leaders didn’t really like the 30-year commitment required for the transit mall. Then Les Wexner, a prominent and very influential member of the Chamber of Commerce at the time, publicly spoke out against the plan, which gradually convinced more and more to oppose it. It seems no shock that Wexner was opposed to such a forward-thinking urban plan considering that his dream community he would be primarily responsible for exploding- New Albany- largely eschews such concepts even to this day. The final nail however may have been the departure of James Reading, who was the general manager of COTA at the time. Reading would accept a job in Santa Clara, California, and since he was considered the “glue” that held the project together, things fell apart thereafter. Reading’s departure would have a much more widespread impact on Columbus’ transit future than just the High Street project, as he had also been a big proponent of rail transit. Early-mid 1980s proposals to bring rail to the city also largely died after he left, as his replacement shared little to none of Reading’s vision. Instead, his replacement, Richard Simonetta, largely focused on getting COTA’s bus service out of the red instead of spending time and energy on potential transit expansion. It’s hard to speculate what could’ve been, but there is a distinct possibility that High Street and transit would be very different in Columbus had Reading stayed in the city. Santa Clara today has more than 80 bus lines, 3 light rail lines and is building a dedicated-lane BRT system.

In any case, the Chamber of Commerce officially pulled support for the High project in July 1985. No alternative plan existed at the time, and for the next few years the city struggled to come up with something else with little to show for it. Ultimately, High Street pretty much stayed as it was. It was not until 2010 that the road diet idea would show up again, but this was focused more for Broad Street than High. The diet plan was officially adopted in 2012, but as of this writing, there has been no movement on the project.

Broad Street road diet as imagined in the 2010 Downtown Strategic Plan.

Columbus Walkability 2015, and the Flaws of WalkScore

WalkScore has update its rankings and numbers for US cities in terms of walkability, transit and bikes. https://www.walkscore.com/cities-and-neighborhoods/

Columbus does not rank all that highly for walkability. Here are the 2014 and 2015 numbers for comparison. Keep in mind that this is just one site’s ranking of walkability, and any changes may not actually mean much, if anything. In Columbus’ case, many urban neighborhoods which have been feverishly building infill have inexplicably had their numbers drop over the course of the year. This seems very strange, and highly unlikely that these areas actually became less walkable.

Top 25 Most Walkable Columbus Neighborhoods, 2014 and 2015
2014                                                                          2015
1. Downtown: 86——————————————1. Necko: 86
2. Dennison Place (Short North): 85———————-2. German Village: 85
3. Italian Village (Short North): 85———————3. Weinland Park: 84
4. Weinland Park (Just northeast of Short North): 85—–4. Schumacher Place: 84
5. Indiana Forest (Northeast Campus Area): 84————5. Italian Village: 84
6. Necko (South Campus): 81——————————6. Indiana Forest: 83
7. Victorian Village (Short North): 81——————-7. Victorian Village: 80
8. Old North Columbus: 80——————————–8. Dennison Place: 80
9. Glen Echo (North Columbus): 80————————9. OSU Campus: 78
10. North Campus: 80————————————-10. Iuka Ravine: 77
11. German Village: 79———————————–11. Downtown: 77
12. Tri-Village (5th Avenue West): 79——————–12. Brewery District: 76
13. Brewery District: 78———————————13. Tri-Village: 75
14. OSU Campus: 77—————————————14. Indianola Terrace: 75
15. Iuka Ravine (North Columbus): 76———————15. Clintonville: 74
16. Clintonville: 75————————————-16. King-Lincoln: 74
17: King-Lincoln (Near East Side): 74——————–17. Old North Columbus: 73
18. Schumacher Place (Near South Side): 73—————18. Olde Towne East: 71
19. Busch (Northwest Columbus): 72———————–19. Merion Village; 71
20. Indianola Terrace (North Columbus): 71—————20. North Campus: 70
21. Merion Village: 69———————————–21. Glen Echo: 69
22. Governours Square (Bethel and Henderson): 68———22. Livingston Park North: 67
23: Harrison West (Hilltop): 67————————–23. Southern Orchards: 67
24. Old Beechwold (North Columbus): 67——————-24. Mount Vernon: 66
25. Olde Towne East: 67———————————-25. Woodland Park: 64

So why might the numbers have gone down in so many urban areas that are seeing large amounts of infill and revitalization? Well, part of the methodology used to compute the WalkScores are US Census tract population data. The most recent Census estimates had large amounts of urban tracts losing population within the urban core, even in high-growth areas like the Short North and Downtown. If these incorrect estimates were incorporated, it might appear that such areas were in decline rather than in the rapid growth they are experiencing in reality, and that associated amenities are going down as well. There’s really no other explanation. The simple fact is, however, that these areas, with perhaps some exceptions, are NOT becoming less walkable, but more. This is a classic case of garbage in, garbage out. Columbus is not a particularly walkable city overall, by any means, but this data really has to be taken with a huge grain of salt.

Overall Columbus Neighborhood Walkability Score Breakdown, 2014 and 2015
2014       2015
90-100 (Walker’s Paradise): 0——–0
70-89 (Very Walkable): 20———–20
50-69 (Somewhat Walkable): 72——-37
0-49 (Car Dependent): 120———–155

Average Columbus Walkability Score, 2014 and 2015

2014: 47
2015: 40

Bike and Transit scores did improve over 2014, but they’re unrelated to population changes and amenities, which would indicate the real movement of Columbus rather than its walkability scores.

Bike Score Neighborhood Breakdown, 2014 and 2015
2014     2015
90-100: 0———0
70-89: 14———14
50-69: 45———45
0-49: 153———153

Average Columbus Bike Score, 2014 and 2015
2014: 45
2015: 46

Transit Score Neighborhood Breakdown, 2014 and 2015
2014     2015
90-100: 0——–0
70-89: 0———0
50-69: 11——–15
0-49: 201——–197

Average Columbus Transit Score, 2014 and 2015
2014: 29
2015: 30

Columbus’ Walkability and More

“Walkability” is the new buzzword when it comes to urban neighborhoods and what new generations want. Based on the Walkscore.com criteria, and with scores from 0-100 (100 being the most walkable), here are Columbus’ most walkable neighborhoods.

Top 25 Most Walkable Neighborhoods and Total Score
1. Downtown: 86
2. Dennison Place (Short North): 85
3. Italian Village (Short North): 85
4. Weinland Park (Just northeast of Short North): 85
5. Indiana Forest (Northeast Campus Area): 84
6. Necko (South Campus): 81
7. Victorian Village (Short North): 81
8. Old North Columbus: 80
9. Glen Echo (North Columbus): 80
10. North Campus: 80
11. German Village: 79
12. Tri-Village (5th Avenue West): 79
13. Brewery District: 78
14. OSU: 77
15. Iuka Ravine (North Columbus): 76
16. Clintonville: 75
17: King-Lincoln (Near East Side): 74
18. Schumacher Place (Near South Side): 73
19. Busch (Northwest Columbus): 72
20. Indianola Terrace (North Columbus): 71
21. Merion Village: 69
22. Governours Square (Bethel and Henderson): 68
23: Harrison West (Hilltop): 67
24. Old Beechwold (North Columbus): 67
25. Olde Towne East: 67

Together, the top 25 neighborhoods contain a little over 100,000 people.

Overall Columbus Neighborhood Walkability Score Breakdown
90-100 (Walker’s Paradise-daily errands do not require a car): 0
70-89 (Very Walkable- most errands can be done on foot): 20
50-69 (Somewhat Walkable- some errands cand be done on foot): 72
0-49 (Car Dependent- most or all errands require a car): 120

Average Columbus Score: 47

So less than half of Columbus’ neighborhoods are walkable, and only a small amount are very walkable where most tasks do not require a car. The overall score shows that Columbus is still largely a car-dependent city.

Walkability, however, is just part of the picture. There are also scores for biking and mass transit access, both of which are also measured on the 0-100 scale.

Top 25 Bikeable Neighborhoods
1. North Campus: 89
2. Harrison West: 88
3. Northmoor (North Columbus): 80
4. Old North Columbus: 80
5. Clintonville: 77
6. OSU: 75
7. Brewery District: 74
8. Dennison Place: 74
9. Glen Echo: 74
10. Victorian Village: 74
11. Indiana Forest: 72
12. Iuka Ravine: 72
13. Necko: 71
14. Italian Village: 70
15. Merion Village: 68
16. Tri-Village: 68
17. Weinland Park: 67
18. Downtown: 66
19. Indianola Terrace (North Columbus): 66
20. North Hilltop: 66
21. Whetstone: 66
22. German Village: 64
23. Mount Vernon (Near East Side): 64
24. Riverview (North Columbus): 63
25. Schumacher Place: 63

The majority of Columbus’ most bikeable neighborhoods are also the most walkable.

Bikeable Neighborhood Score Breakdown
90-100: 0
70-89: 14
50-69: 45
0-49: 153

Average Columbus Bikeable Score: 45

Similar to its walkability, the majority of Columbus’ neighborhoods are not particularly bikeable. This has a lot to do with the further out and newer suburban areas of the city being built almost exclusively for cars. Only in the last 10 years has the city become more interested in promoting bike use. The city is adding several hundred miles of bike lanes and bike infrastructure, and it recently launched its own bike-share system.

Finally, we have the transit scores, which are based on access to mass transit options.

Top 25 Most Transit-Friendly Neighborhoods
1. Downtown: 64
2. Brewery District: 57
3. Italian Village: 57
4. German Village: 55
5. Victorian Village: 55
6. Dennison Place: 54
7. Weinland Park: 54
8. Necko: 52
9. Olde Towne East: 52
10. Schumacher Place: 52
11. Indiana Forest: 50
12. Harrison West: 49
13. King-Lincoln: 49
14. North Campus: 49
15. OSU: 49
16. Franklin Park (Near East Side): 49
17. Beechwood: 47
18. Iuka Ravine: 47
19. Milo-Grogan: 47
20. South of Main (Near East Side): 47
21. Livingston Park North (Near South Side): 46
22. Mount Vernon: 46
23. Old North Columbus: 46
24. Woodland Park (Near East Side): 46
25. Franklinton: 45

Transit Score Neighborhood Breakdown
90-100: 0
70-89: 0
50-69: 11
0-49: 201

Average Columbus Transit Score: 29

Clearly, based on these numbers, the city’s transit system needs a ton of improvement. COTA, or the city’s bus system, is really the only form of mass transit available, and beyond a few areas near Downtown, seems to struggle to provide access. The city is currently studying BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) with a first line proposed from Downtown and up along Cleveland Avenue to the North Side, with future lines coming after that. This will help, but there is still much to be done. Some type of rail system should also be part of near future development, as the city remains one of the largest in the US without any type of passenger rail.

So what is the overall picture of the city? First, that too much of the city is built for car use only. The boom in urban development has been significant, but the vast majority of it is occurring in areas that have the highest scores. Correlation or coincidence? Densification of neighborhoods further from the core is entirely possible, and these areas can and should be built with walkability and transit in mind. The city is taking steps for improvement, but it is, at least in my opinion, one of the weakest points of Columbus.

To see where your neighborhood stands, check out http://www.walkscore.com/